By Mike Hoffman, Founder
The annual Mass of Hope and Healing is held each year at Holy Family Church on Roosevelt Road in Chicago, which is also the site of the Healing Garden of the Archdiocese of Chicago. This Mass is an effort to promote healing for victims-survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and for their families. I look forward to attending each year. Knowing the issue of clergy abuse of children has been so difficult for abuse survivors, has torn families apart and has affected our Church very deeply, here is a moment in which people come together to pray and encourage healing.
As a clergy abuse survivor, I appreciate the fact there is a risk in walking through the doors of the church. The risk is that the wounds of abuse may re-open. However, there are abuse survivors reading the readings, leading the Prayers of the Faithful, helping as Eucharistic Ministers, singing in the choir, and more. Yes, abuse survivors carry the pain and heartache of the tragic and long-lasting consequences of childhood abuse with us, but we also can come together and share something else in common. I believe we can share hope for a better future.
The first time I attended the annual Mass for Hope and Healing was September 15, 2012. My parents sat with me, and my wife and children sat in the pew behind us. Francis Cardinal George, OMI, celebrated this Liturgy. The Scripture readings offered the despair and isolation felt by an exile in the Book of Lamentations and the comfort of God’s mercy in the Beatitudes. “Their juxtaposition shows the balance we all need,” the Cardinal said in his homily. He spoke about the need for both balance and integrity in every human life. He went on to say, “Victims of clerical sexual abuse, often years or decades after the abuse occurred, often talk as though they put that experience in a box and closed it off from the rest of their lives. But they must open that box to live fully integrated lives, and to stop the abuse from causing further damage,” he said, continuing, “Priests who have abused children or young people also put that part of their lives in a box, and it seems to have little to do with the rest of their life, which often includes many good and generous acts.”
I will never forget sitting there, listening to the Cardinal preach, thinking to myself that he was really “putting himself out there” and taking a risk, especially as he referred to his brother priests. I was really pleased. It made me happy to know our Church leader was saying such right and appropriate comments, even though it may have been personally difficult for him in his position. I thought then, if he can put himself out there and take a risk, then maybe, just maybe, I can do the same. I credit some of my volunteer efforts over the past five years to the Cardinal’s inspiration that day.
Each year since, we have celebrated the Mass of Hope and Healing in the fall, and I continue to be pleased to see people come together, no matter what may have happened to them as a child. I bring my personal pain and heartache from family dysfunction, broken relationships, loss of my youth and feeling overwhelmed and being anxious. I place them at the altar for one hour at this Mass. I take a break from all of it. I look forward to taking a break. It makes me feel better, at least for this hour.
Licensed clinical social workers are available at this Mass for abuse survivors, family members, or really anyone, to speak in confidence. This year will be the fifth annual Mass of Hope and Healing sponsored by the Archdiocesan Office of Assistance Ministry. I am grateful for the opportunity to share something in common with other abuse survivors in this heartfelt and prayerful coming-together. It simply seems healing to me. I hope others feel the same way.
I want to close with a quote from Cardinal George, written in March 2011. “When a hurt person is healing, he or she becomes free to help others. Not trapped in the terrible crime once done to them, not exhausted by personal struggle, a victim of sexual abuse is free and strong when able to help those whom God gives them to love.” I really like this. The annual Mass of Hope and Healing helps those who are hurt along their healing journey, with the hope that they will have a greater chance of living a happier and healthier life.