“It’s about time we put this in the forefront. We need to recognize it and talk about it.”
Kudos to Bishop Dolan. This is has the potential to save lives and heal hearts.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than twice as many people died in 2020 by their own hand than by someone else, and while the annual suicide rate actually dropped in 2019 and 2020 — the last year that figures are available — the rate has risen sharply since 2000.
Once considered a mortal sin that could cost someone salvation, suicide is viewed by the church today in a much more moderate way.
And going along with that development are calls by clergy, clinicians and advocates to bring suicide into the light in the hopes to reduce it and to do more to help those left behind.
On Sunday, Sept. 4, the Diocese of Phoenix took a significant step toward both of these steps, becoming the latest in a growing number of dioceses across the United States to create an office dedicated to the ministry of mental health.
The announcement — during the diocese’s first Mass of Remembrance for Suicide Victims– came from someone well-acquainted with the issue.
Phoenix Bishop John P. Dolan, who lost both a brother and sister to suicide in separate incidents more than a decade ago — unveiled plans for the new office of Catholic Mental Health Ministry toward the end of his homily to a standing-room-only congregation at Ss. Simon & Jude Cathedral in Phoenix.
In an interview after the Mass, Bishop Dolan said a diocesan office dedicated to mental health had been a goal of his since his Aug. 2 installment, but its implementation was hastened by a gift from a local foundation, the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, that supports local religious and secular projects.
Immediately after the bishop’s remarks, members of the congregation who had lost someone to suicide were called to place a single carnation for each departed individual into a basket in front of the cathedral’s Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe — the diocese’s patroness.
“Ask Our Lady to accompany you with her prayers and to accompany our brothers and sisters who have gone before us, asking the Lord to hold our brothers and sisters in the palm of His hand,” he said.
Bishop Dolan said he and other diocesan leaders were expecting online and in-person requests to place flowers from around 100-120 individuals. The final number was around 1,200.
“There are a lot of people hurting,” he said.
The bishop said the new office will serve three purposes: education, accompaniment of those suffering and advocacy for better policy and funding from government and other sources.
“Educating our fellow Catholic brothers and sisters who may not fully understand the depth of mental health; we accompany those who struggle … in our parishes so they are not lost but that they know they have a place at the table. And we accompany those who struggle with suicide loss. Those of you who are survivors of loss; hopefully, you know the church is here, reaching out to you, letting you know you are loved and that your loved ones are not forgotten…”