Healing for the grieving at Christmas time

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Paige Bullen and Mark Hamilton light candles representing those who have died this year. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Interfaith service at St Mary’s brings hope and healing

As the world of late-night shopping and end-of-year parties swirled outside, people gathered at St Mary’s Cathedral on 13 December for Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria’s annual Christmas Remembrance Service.

“It acknowledges that as well as the joy that Christmas brings it is also a time of deep and profound sadness for many.”

Bishop Terry Brady presided at the ecumenical and interfaith service, and at the conclusion, invited all present to watch the Lights of Christmas display from the cathedral forecourt. Sinead Kent, coordinator of memorial and remembrance liturgies for the Grief Care Team said the emotion was tangible during the simple yet powerful service.

“People have been waiting to get together again to pray, to get back into the church and engage in a holy space,” she said. “It was really beautiful.

Coordinator of Grief Care memorial and remembrance services Sinead Kent reads prayers. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“The whole year was very different for us due to COVID-19. We pre-recorded or live-streamed all of our annual services including Mother’s Day, Fathers’ Day, All Souls Day, whereas it had been the norm for up to 400 people to attend these events.

“The response we’ve had from people has been phenomenal, people have encouraged family members and friends in different parts of the world to be part of our services online. However it is so important for people to be able to come together, not only for those grieving the death of a loved one this year but others wanting to do something special to remember the good times.”

While the cathedral is usually packed for the annual event, this year the service was more subdued due to COVID safety restrictions. It was attended by 300 people including members of the Abdallah and Sakr families whose children Anthony, Angelina and Sienna Abdallah and Veronique Sakr died in February.

Bishop Terry Brady presided at the Christmas Remembrance Service in St Mary’s Cathedral on 13 December. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Managing consultant for Grief Care Patricia Thomas said the Remembrance Service was established by Bishop Brady and CEO of Catholic Cemeteries & Crematoria Peter O’Meara eight years ago when Grief Care was launched and it remains a popular event.

“In ministering to families we were aware that the first Christmas after losing a loved one in particular is a struggle,” she said. “We usually see 500-1000 people come to the service each year, and it just acknowledges that as well as the joy that Christmas brings it is also a time of deep and profound sadness for many.

The profound peace despite loss was ‘tangible’ at the Christmas Remembrance Service at St Mary’s Cathedral on 13 December. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“The beautiful setting of the cathedral provides some healing in itself and gives people hope coming into that season.”

Another very important aspect was beautiful sacred music, provided by liturgical music coordinator at Grief Care Sigrid Evangelista, with Kye and Koe Evangelista, Jane Kent and accompanied by cathedral organist Titus Grenyer, Ms Thomas said.

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