BENNINGTON -- Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church recently hosted an ecumenical prayer service for the blessing of caregivers, which included a blessing of the hands and a talk by a local physician.
The half-hour ceremony, also featuring readings and music, was held to mark the World Day of the Sick, instituted by Pope John Paul II in 1992.
Tuesday, Feb. 11, was also the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, named after a French town believed to be the site of an apparition of Mary in the 19th century and the site of many healings since.
"This is our second year," said Janet Lucy, who is faith formation director for the parish. "It was a Mass last year. And we decided to do an interfaith (service), hoping that more people would come."
The service was intended both for those in the medical profession and for family caregivers -- "people that are at home with shut-ins or family members as well as the medical community, as well as nursing homes.
"We invited a lot of the nursing homes of the area," she said. "We sent invitations to all of the churches, hoping that we would be able to catch some people there. So it was a big effort."
About 25 people attended the service. The service made sense because so many local medical people belong to the church, Lucy said.
"Plus, we have a lot of the sick and we know a lot of caretakers who are at home with their family members. It becomes a community thing, and what we call it (is) a milestone ministry, which is what this is all about," she said. "'Milestone' means that there's a connection between what happens in the church and what happens in the home. The church is meant to support the home endeavors. And this is a perfect example of supporting people that are in their home trying to take care of their elderly, as well as the medical profession and the nursing homes."
The Rev. Gary Strubel, of All Saints Episcopal Church in Hoosick, N.Y., and Deacon David O'Brien, of St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington, helped lead the service.
Dr. Carol Salazar, a physician in Bennington and a parishioner at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales, gave a witness talk about the relationship of her faith and her work in a healing profession.
"How does my faith impact my work? And the other part of it for me is: ‘How does my work impact my faith?'" she said. "I didn't always want to be a physician, I kind of went kicking and screaming, but I do believe it's a vocation. I believe it's God's call."
Including her medical training, it's been 40-plus years "working harder and harder to learn my profession, and 60-plus years deepening my faith," she said. "And I think I receive as much from my work and from my patients and my co-workers as I give. I'm pretty much reminded every day to be grateful. I'm honored to walk with people from all aspects of life. I'm reminded to give praise to God."
Salazar spoke of the ways her faith has challenged her to be a better physician.
"Over the years ... the Holy Spirit has helped me integrate my work and my faith and my family, and becoming more ... conscious of my faith and my work and how my work impacts my faith," she said. "For example, in the morning when I get up I try always to remember to pray ... so that I can be a better person, the person he wants me to be and the physician he wants me to be, that I will be open to the Spirit, that I will be open to my patients and my co-workers."
The service concluded with the people present coming forward to have their hands blessed with oils.
"During this evening, we gather together to celebrate the healing and caring in which we all participate. Our hands represent the care we both give and receive," read part of the service. "Particularly in our ministry to the sick, we have had wonderful opportunities to nurture and support each other in different ways."
Though attendance was somewhat less than hoped -- perhaps due to cold weather and the Olympics, Lucy said the service would be offered again the future.
"Absolutely. There's always going to be a need and, like I said, the people who were meant to be here were the people that were here."
Reach Mark Rondeau at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @banner_religion