St. Rita of Cascia’s Mental Health Ministry: Healing together
By Carla Beecher
A recent post-Covid survey of parishioners at St. Rita of Cascia on Chicago’s South Side revealed an alarming problem: a number of congregants were suffering from depression and anxiety. As leader of its Pastoral Migratoria Ministry, which is supported in part by gifts to the Annual Catholic Appeal, Federico Padilla took the urgency of the situation to heart.
“People were hurting enough that some had even tried to take their own lives,” Padilla said. “So, I kept thinking, ‘What can we do to help all of these people?’”
Padilla reached out to Chicago mental health professional and licensed hypnotherapist Salvador Mora, whom he met during a parenting session at his daughter’s school. The two, along with Pastor Homero Sanchez, OSA, set about creating St. Rita’s Mental Health Ministry support group, which began offering group sessions to about 20 parishioners every other week last January.
“We are focusing our energies on reshaping how we look at mental health,” said Father Sanchez. “In addition to creating awareness of the need for support, we also are offering our community useful and meaningful treatment. With Mr. Mora’s guidance and his willingness to help, we are committed to this ministry.” According to Padilla, the parish has seen an increase of stress on every age group since the beginning of the pandemic. They thought that the ministry would attract only teenagers, but they immediately found that adults also came to learn ways of coping with long-term problems.
Mora offers practical techniques to apply to their daily encounters with anxiety, including breathing exercises that help participants to relax. As a licensed hypnotherapist, Mora uses other techniques to help attendees go deep into their subconscious where they can be more open to suggestions on new ways to think about troubling issues.
Participants learn a breathing technique where they close their eyes and silently repeat to themselves, “God is peace,” seven times. “This allows God to work,” said Mora. “Within 10 minutes, feelings of stress, depression or anxiety lessen.” More also suggests that participants practice mindfulness to ease tension by walking in nature while thinking, “God is the path of peace and power.” “Those taking advantage of the meetings say that life is getting so much better,” Padilla said. Padilla said they also have created a buddy system where participants can pair with one another to be available for immediate support after they leave the classroom.
“The group provides emotional support and understanding,” Mora said. “Participants see that they are not alone in their struggles. It’s a place and time to ventilate emotions, regain the power to find solutions, receive words of encouragement and realize that God is always there, in the good times and in the bad. With his grace and our fellowship, we learn to handle what life sends us.”
Padilla hopes that interest in this group will continue to grow, and that people will recognize that the ministry is offering an important and life-changing resource. “This has been amazing for me,” he said. “I am using what I am learning with my whole family. When you help one person, you also help a whole family and the community.”
To learn more about St. Rita of Cascia’s Mental Health Ministry, please contact Federico Padilla at 773.727.1862.