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Those with mental illness, and their families, should not suffer alone, bishop says at Mass during Mental Health Month- Catholic Standard


Those living with mental illness, and families struggling to assist them, should never bear those burdens alone, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Evelio Menjivar said at a May 11 Mass for persons living with mental health challenges.

“We Christians must encounter them, accompany them, comfort them, include them, and help bear their burdens in solidarity with them, offering our understanding, prayers and tangible, ongoing support,” the bishop said at the Mass hosted at the Pope Francis Center in Landover Hills, Maryland, by the Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

The Mass at the center’s St. Francis Deaf Catholic Church was celebrated in conjunction with May as Mental Health Awareness Month, and also near the May 15 feast day of St. Dymphna, a seventh century Irish teen saint who is the patron saint of people experiencing mental health challenges and nervous or emotional distress.

Bishop Menjivar said that as he has traveled to parishes presiding at Confirmations, Dymphna is becoming a popular Confirmation name for teenagers. Reflecting on that saint’s popularity, the bishop noted, “In a way, St. Dymphna is the patron saint of all of us, because who can say that (he or she) is totally free of these types of challenges?”

Pointing out that “we need not look far to encounter our brothers and sisters who struggle with mental illness,” the bishop said those who do not have mental health problems can relate to those who do, for no one is free from experiencing things like anxiety or emotional distress.

Especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems more people are suffering from mental illness, Bishop Menjivar said.

“Persons with mental health challenges often suffer in silence, hidden, unrecognized and very often stigmatized by others,” the bishop said, noting how people who suffer from other illnesses often receive support from family, friends, coworkers and their faith communities. “On the contrary, a person suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses frequently experiences isolation and inadequate support, often because of ignorance, shame and the unjust social stigma of mental illness.”

That should not happen, said Bishop Menjivar, who emphasized, “Those living with a mental illness should never bear these burdens alone, nor should their families who struggle heroically to assist their loved ones.”


Washington Auxiliary Bishop Evelio Menjivar gives the homily during a Mass for Persons Living with Mental Health Challenges, that he celebrated on May 11, 2024 at the Pope Francis Center in Landover Hills, Maryland. The Mass was hosted by the Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Evelio Menjivar gives the homily during a Mass for Persons Living with Mental Health Challenges, that he celebrated on May 11, 2024 at the Pope Francis Center in Landover Hills, Maryland. The Mass was hosted by the Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)

Underscoring how Christ in His suffering and death on the cross experienced “our fears and mental anguish to the end” and gave meaning to people’s suffering, the bishop said that “just as Christ never abandons anyone, so also the Church, we, should never abandon those who suffer in any possible way. Therefore, ministering to those who suffer from mental illness is an essential part of the pastoral care of the Church.”

Bishop Menjivar said that Christians as the body of Christ in today’s world are “called to be wounded healers who help alleviate the burdens that stem from mental afflictions.”

As he concluded his homily, the bishop thanked caregivers “for dedicating your life, your talents, your expertise, your energy, your whole being in caring for people with mental illnesses. You are truly the hands of Jesus who continue healing, but above all, you are the heart of Jesus who continues loving all of us when we are most vulnerable.”

Commending the programs in communities and in parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of Washington that assist people with mental illnesses, Bishop Menjivar offered special thanks to families.

“Thank you for standing by your loved ones. You truly are making the difference in people’s lives, as well as contributing to the well-being of the whole community,” he said.

The bishop said that “it is into Christ’s hands stretched out on the cross that we entrust our loved ones who are suffering, and all those who have died as a result of a mental illness. We pray that the departed may find God’s presence and peace.”

About 40 people attended the Mass, and they were welcomed at the beginning of the liturgy by Father Patrick Mullan, the chaplain of the Office of Deaf and Disability Ministry who also serves as the chaplain at Gallaudet University in Washington and at St. Francis Deaf Catholic Church. He noted that a monthly rosary and Mass for mental illness is held at 11 a.m. on the second Saturday of each month at that church.

“We meet very month to pray for those who live with mental illness, for their strength and perseverance,” Father Mullan said.


Father Patrick Mullan, the chaplain for the Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, uses American Sign Language to communicate the prayers during a May 11 Mass hosted by that office at the Pope Francis Center in Landover Hills for people living with mental health challenges. Father Mullan also serves as the Catholic chaplain at Gallaudet University and at the St. Francis Deaf Catholic Church in Landover Hills. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)

Father Patrick Mullan, the chaplain for the Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, uses American Sign Language to communicate the prayers during a May 11 Mass hosted by that office at the Pope Francis Center in Landover Hills for people living with mental health challenges. Father Mullan also serves as the Catholic chaplain at Gallaudet University and at the St. Francis Deaf Catholic Church in Landover Hills. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)

At the Mass, a prayer asked that Jesus, who came to bring light to darkness, might help people with undiagnosed mental illnesses to receive the assistance that they need. The intercessions included a prayer that community leaders will create policies, laws and outreach to support people living with mental health challenges, and that those living with mental illnesses or challenges might experience “the loving embrace of our Lord and the healing touch of the Holy Spirit.” Another prayer asked that family members, friends and support staff ministering to people with mental illness “know the Lord is walking beside them.”

A prayer after Communion was offered for those living with mental illness.

Afterward, Marianne Yanik – who attended the Mass with her son Robert Yanik; her daughter-in-law Kathryn Yanik, the director of the archdiocese’s Office of Life Issues; and with the couple’s baby daughter, her granddaughter Clare Yanik – said the Mass meant a lot to her.

Marianne Yanik, who is a retired hospice nurse, noted, “I’ve been going through some forgetfulness. It’s not as severe as some, but I can feel it.” She added, “I don’t know what it’s going to be like. I get forgetful.” Yanik, who lives with her son and his family, said she was thankful to be with them.

“I have a lot of help, but I pray for those who are suffering from other forms of fear, anxiety or forgetfulness,” she said.


Kathryn Yanik, the director of the Office of Life Issues of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, holds her baby daughter Clare and is joined by her husband Robert Yanik and her mother-in-law Marianne Yanik at a May 11 Mass at the Pope Francis Center in Landover Hills for people living with mental health challenges. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)

Kathryn Yanik, the director of the Office of Life Issues of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, holds her baby daughter Clare and is joined by her husband Robert Yanik and her mother-in-law Marianne Yanik at a May 11 Mass at the Pope Francis Center in Landover Hills for people living with mental health challenges. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)

Judy Barr, who read the prayer intentions at the Mass, noted that the monthly Mass and rosary for people facing mental health challenges has been held for the past 21 years, first at St. Anselm’s Abbey and at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, and now at St. Francis Deaf Catholic Church.

Barr, a parishioner at Our Lady of Sorrows in Takoma Park who is a retired mechanical engineer, noted that generations of her family have experienced mental illness, and she has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

“My prayers are for people all over the world who have mental illnesses, and their families, especially those who don’t have the benefit of medicine or therapy,” she said.

Asked for her advice for people and their families who are experiencing mental health challenges, Barr said, “Pray. Ask Jesus for help. Ask God for the theological virtue of hope.”


Judy Barr reads the intentions during a May 11 Mass at the Pope Francis Center in Landover Hills for people living with mental health challenges. The Mass was hosted by the Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)

Judy Barr reads the intentions during a May 11 Mass at the Pope Francis Center in Landover Hills for people living with mental health challenges. The Mass was hosted by the Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)


Father Patrick Mullan, the chaplain for the Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, joins Judy Barr as she paused while reading the intentions during a May 11 Mass at the Pope Francis Center in Landover Hills for people living with mental health challenges. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)

Father Patrick Mullan, the chaplain for the Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, joins Judy Barr as she paused while reading the intentions during a May 11 Mass at the Pope Francis Center in Landover Hills for people living with mental health challenges. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)

Mary O’Meara, the executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry who offered American Sign Language interpretation at the Mass, said it is important to create awareness of Church programs that offer a safety net for people suffering from mental illness and can help them find clinical support, “so nobody’s suffering alone. We need to say, ‘We’re here for you.’”

Anyone interested in learning more about parish mental health ministry or other resources may contact the Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry at specialneedsministry@adw.org
. The office has a fact sheet that offers information on related Catholic resources, including the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, the St. Jerome Counseling Program, Catholic Charities Anchor Mental Health program, St. Luke’s Caritas Counseling, and Catholic Therapists in Maryland.


Mary O’Meara, the executive director of the Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, offers sign language interpretation during a May 11 Mass hosted by that office at the Pope Francis Center in Landover Hills for people living with mental health challenges. At left is Washington Auxiliary Bishop Evelio Menjivar, the main celebrant at the Mass. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)

Mary O’Meara, the executive director of the Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, offers sign language interpretation during a May 11 Mass hosted by that office at the Pope Francis Center in Landover Hills for people living with mental health challenges. At left is Washington Auxiliary Bishop Evelio Menjivar, the main celebrant at the Mass. (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)

The archdiocesan office compiled the following facts on mental illness:

  • According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults in the United States will experience a mental health condition; and 17 percent of youth (ages 6-17) experience a mental health disorder.
  • People with mental illness have a biological disorder which can be treated with a combination of medications and counseling, just as people with diabetes are treated with insulin and diet.
  • Early intervention, as with other types of illnesses, leads to better outcomes for the person and their family.

In October 2023, the U.S. Catholic bishops launched a National Catholic Mental Health Campaign and novena, noting how mental health challenges have been amplified in recent years with the impact of the global pandemic.

Related talks coming up this month include a panel discussion on Catholic Perspectives on Mental Health being held May 15 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of Center City Public Charter School at 711 N Street, N.W., next door to Immaculate Conception Church in Washington, D.C.; and a talk at 6:30 p.m. on May 21 on “Busting the Myth of Catholic Guilt: Faith and Its Benefits for Mental Health,” being held in the lyceum of the Basilica of St. Mary, 313 Duke Street, in Alexandria, Virginia.

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