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The Emmaus Ministry for grieving parents

This drawing depicts “The Road to Emmaus” and is based on an icon written by the late Benedictine Sister Marie-Paul Farran. (CNS picture/courtesy Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization)

No parent ever expects to lose their child. And if you were like me, you prayed you’d never be faced with the unthinkable. But in the summer of 2018, my 19-year-old son Nicholas tragically passed away. I was left with searing grief, and trying to make sense out of something that will never make sense.

The natural order of death has been disordered. In an attempt to assuage my pain, I looked for any support group I could find. At first, I joined The Compassionate Friends group, and although they are a wonderful organization, I felt there was something lacking in their ministry.

When an online group I belonged to banned any talk of God or religion, it was then I knew what was lacking. I had been searching for God and for the Catholic perspective on death. After all, He died so that we could live.

I began scouring the internet for any Catholic group I could join but alas, I couldn’t find one. Then a friend emailed me a flyer for the Emmaus Ministry for Grieving Parents which is a Catholic organization that offered retreats for grieving parents. I had never heard of them and upon further investigation realized they were not in The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. The diocese with that ministry that was closest to the D.C. area was the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia. I knew I had to attend so I drove the three hours to West Virginia for their one-day retreat.

For me, it was life-changing. The deep isolation and loneliness I had been experiencing in my grief was instantly lifted. The hope and healing that was being offered through this ministry saved me from despair. I would see my son again, and God would be walking along with me on my grief journey comforting and listening to me just as he walked and comforted his disciples along the road to Emmaus.

This unique, Catholic, ongoing program serving the spiritual needs of parents was started in 2009 by the Franciscan Friars in Boston, in collaboration with Diane and Charley Monaghan, who sought healing following the death of their son in 2002. The Monaghans started the Emmaus Ministry for Grieving Parents with a mission to serve the spiritual needs of parents whose children have died at any age of any cause and to assist those interested in bringing this ministry to their parish or region.

The Gospel story of Jesus walking with the grieving disciples on the road to Emmaus was chosen to help parents know that Jesus walks with them in their grief. The Emmaus Ministry for Grieving Parents offers one-hour (virtual) and one-day in person retreats held throughout the country, and I am happy to report that now includes the Archdiocese of Washington.

All are welcome, regardless of situation or denomination, with the retreat being focused on the Catholic understanding of death and resurrection. Participants share in several activities during the course of the retreat including a prayer service, candle lighting in memory of their child, large group sessions, small group sharing sessions, reflections and letter writing. The retreats are facilitated by a retreat team that consists of people who have participated in previous retreats, as well as a spiritual director. Mass is also celebrated at the parish where the retreat is held.

It is a very healing day where participants are able to share as little or as much as they’d like regarding their spiritual journey and where God fits into their lives. It’s a chance for grieving parents to come together so they don’t feel so alone in their grief. Instant lifelong bonds are formed for retreatants. The next full day retreat in The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington will be held on Sept. 14 at St. John Neumann Parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Also, new this year, the Archdiocese of Washington is offering quarterly spiritual support group meetings led by a grieving parent and the office of family life. The dates of the meetings for the remainder of the year will be June 27, and Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. and a Christmas Remembrance service in December at a local parish.

For more information on any of these programs please reach out to Maria Warner or the archdiocese’s Office of Family Life or call (301) 853-4546.