The county where I live has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. In 2014, there were 87 deaths due to overdose, in 2015, 126 death, and, in 2016, 174 deaths. Small and rural, everyone seems to know someone who is struggling with addiction or has died of an overdose.
As a society, we have not always responded well to drug epidemics. As a church, we are too often and too quick to judge those struggling with drugs, especially those who have a criminal record because of them. Instead of feeling welcomed, people who struggle with drugs and their families often feel like they cannot speak about it to others. They feel isolated, if they continue attending church.
In the midst of this though, the Diocese of Greensburg, under the leadership of Bishop Malesic, has responded to the crisis in a way that, I believe, is consonant with its mission: to continue the ministry of Jesus.
In late June, the Bishop issued a pastoral letter on the drug abuse crisis entitled, “From Death and Despair to Life and Hope.” In it, the Bishop wrote, “We can either sink down into despair or rise up in hope. Our Christian faith compels us to choose hope.” He challenged the idea that people who are addicted “should just try harder, change their lifestyle, make different choices and then they will be just fine.” He stated that this belief generates shame and so keeps people with addiction “from admitting that there is a problem, let alone seeking assistance that is needed.”
Bishop Malesic also noted that this is not a private problem but rather, because of addition, “everyone in the circle of relationships is affected.”
Thus, he quotes the hymn “Risen Lord, We Gather Round You” to indicate what we, as Church, should do.
GO WHERE LIVES ARE BRUISED AND BROKEN; GO WHERE CHILDREN WASTE AND BLIGHT. GO AMONG THE LOST, FORGOTTEN; GO WHERE SORROW SHROUDS MY LIGHT. TAKE THE BREAD OF LIFE I GIVE YOU; SHARE IT WITH A WORLD IN PAIN. GO, MY PEOPLE, BE MY SERVANTS TILL ON EARTH MY LOVE SHALL REIGN!
The Bishop concludes his pastoral letter with the following actions that the diocese will take:
- “This summer I will host educational and prayer opportunities at seven parishes across the Diocese to engage as many people as possible in drug prevention and the pastoral care follow-up effort.”
- “Through the services of Catholic Charities, we have and will continue to offer counseling, education, and referrals for addicts and their families.”
- “We will assist in the development of family recovery groups or other similar support groups.”
- “The Diocesan Pro-Life and Social Ministry Office will provide ongoing information, which will enable those in our Diocesan Pastoral Center, parishes, and schools to advocate at the local, state, and federal levels for the necessary resources for prevention and treatment of drug abuse.”
- “The Office of Worship will provide preaching tools to pastors to address this issue in the lives of our people and parishes.”
In a time when we are quick to diagnosis problems and point out faults, here is an example of the Church living up to its calling to love our neighbor as our self.