‘I can see and hear and feel that I’m not alone’
The first person Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark anointed at the center aisle was an elderly black woman in a wheelchair. With sacred oil he blessed her forehead and her palms. Then, bending over, the tall prelate gently held her hands with his free right hand.
Standing beside him, Msgr. Marc Trudeau — who testified movingly about his own struggle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the annual liturgy two years ago — did the same for a middle-age Asian woman dressed in a red jacket and jeans.
One by one, more than 400 men, women, young adults and teenagers were anointed by the bishop and priests at the 6th annual “Pray for a Cure for Cancer Mass and Anointing of the Sick” Sunday afternoon liturgy at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Oct. 30.
“In celebrating this Mass, our prayer is that God will heal cancer, that God will give us a cure from cancer and that God will give us the ability to accept what we need with cancer,” Bishop Clark said during his homily. “But we do it with the understanding that we are not victims. We are servants. We are caretakers to others.”
The auxiliary bishop of Our Lady of the Angels Pastoral Region then talked about his own father, who died of cancer seven years ago at the age of 85. He said there was “nothing wonderful about that.” What was wonderful was how his dad had suffered and coped with cancer for almost 25 years. There were setbacks, but they never stopped him from living a full and rewarding life. And although he was resolved that whenever God wanted to take him, God would take him, he also struggled that it wouldn’t be one day sooner.
During the last quarter century of his life, he was determined to do all the things he wanted to do in this life, according to his son. And the main thing he savored was being a Eucharistic minister. He loved bringing Communion into the homes of shut-ins and ministering to them out of his own awareness of the healing that had happened in his life. Twice he visited Lourdes, with each trip followed by long periods of remission, which he considered miracles.
The bishop said his dad had a strong belief that he was called to minister to others. The years after being diagnosed were both a “gift and an opportunity,” because it gave him a real understanding for those who suffered. His son reported that he could sit for hours listening to the sick and dying talk about their lives. It was his final calling on earth.
“And that’s a remarkable thing for us to celebrate in our lives today,” said Bishop Clark. “The reason we are anointed is to go and bring the word of God to other people by what we say and what we do. And in the anointing of the sick, we not only pray for healing, but we commission those anointed to be ministers of healing other people.”
The bishop pointed out this can be hard for individuals who are suffering themselves, both physically and emotionally. “So in this Mass let’s pray for healing and commissioning,” he said. “In this anointing of the sick, we pray for healing and for commissioning. And those anointed are being sent forth to be servants to the people of God, ministers of God’s healing touch.”
From shock to peace
At the end of the dual liturgy — celebrating the sacraments of the Eucharist and anointing of the sick — cancer survivor Maxine Ulibarri of Nativity Church, Torrance, spoke with deacon husband Ralph at her side. Maxine said she was 30-somthing when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had to have a hysterectomy. She described going through the phases of shock, fear, anger, acceptance and finally peace.
But then last year, her 33-year-old daughter, Julie, was told that she had an inoperable tumor on her ovaries. “And a different form of fear passed over me,” she confided.
After a second opinion and a referral from the American Cancer Society, however, Julie was accepted in a special trial program at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore this summer. The procedure seemed to be successful, but then only last week another tumor was discovered. It could be benign or malignant.
“So then I began to pray again, and for the first time I think I began to surrender,” Maxine said. “And what I realized through all of this is I’ve come to the conclusion God is not through using us. And the reason for this Mass and its history is very apparent to us.
“We need to continue to pray to God for a cure for cancer,” she stressed, “trusting as people of faith that God will hear the cry of his people.”
Vickie Race started the cancer liturgy with husband Mark, a deacon at St. Bernadette Parish in South Los Angeles, for that very reason. Seven years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy along with chemotherapy. After, the parents of four children wondered what they could do for other cancer survivors. With help from the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, the answer became the “Pray for a Cure for Cancer Mass and Anointing of the Sick” liturgy at the Cathedral, plus the formation of the Faith, Hope and Charity Catholic Cancer Ministry.
Vickie told The Tidings she never thought the liturgy would become the annual happening it has. “But it was one of those things that whatever God wanted us to do,” she said. “And then we got phone calls and people stopping us from different churches telling how wonderful it was that we have this Mass for them to come and pray for a cure. Then we started our cancer ministry and we just knew that we were going to continue with the Mass.”
Today, the ministry includes a support group and retreats, plus individual counseling. But last month, the couple went to Lourdes with a group called North American Volunteers, which brings the sick to the French shrine where the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to Bernadette Soubirous 18 times in a grotto. And they brought back seven gallons of the sacred water.
Their plans are to distribute small bottles of it when they take an icon drawing of Mary holding baby Jesus done by a local nurse, Renata Perzyna. (After this year’s cancer Mass, people wrote prayers and petitions on the drawing of “Our Lady of Affliction.”) Next year, hopefully, the Races will accompany to Lourdes a group from Southern California.
“I’m busy organizing everything with my husband, but when the actual day comes and I’m here in the Cathedral, it means the world,” Vickie confided. “Looking around, I can see and hear and feel that I’m not alone. It just permeates deep in my soul. It gives me hope. It gives me hope. Because there’s always that fear that the cancer may be back. But then having this Mass is like: ‘Whatever God’s will may be.’”
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December 12, 2013 (8:30 AM)
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December 12, 2013 (11:30 AM)
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Prayer of the MonthPapal intentions for November: That priests who experience difficulties may find comfort in their suffering, support in their doubts, and confirmation in their fidelity. That as fruit of the continental mission, Latin American Churches may send missionaries to other Churches.
Papal intentions for December: That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.