The Catholic Parish of Whanganui — Te Parihi Katorika a ki Whanganui in celebrating a Memorial Mass for those affected by suicide, acknowledged that in the past, the Catholic Church did not always get it right in its understanding of the tragedy of someone who took their own life. 

It was also acknowledged that the Catholic Church also often failed to look after families and friends who were left behind often feeling shame, disbelief and questioning why?

Suicide is frequently not a sin, it is often the result of an illness.

“Suicide is terrible, but doesn’t make them terrible people. Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his or her own life. Since we are stewards of our lives, which come from God, suicide in itself is wrong. Nevertheless, we know that many, if not all, who die from suicide suffer from mental illnesses, anguish or hardship which diminishes their responsibility for their actions. We should not despair of people who have lost their lives by suicide. For those who have committed suicide, and indeed for all who have died, they are alive to God,” said parish priest Fr Marcus Francis.

The initiative to celebrate a Memorial Mass was born from two pastoral experiences with which Fr Francis was involved, and in which he saw the consolation and personal peace gifted to two women through the Eucharist.

These women were a widow whose husband stipulated no funeral Mass in his suicide note and a sister whose brother died some 20 years ago without a rightful requiem Mass (for the story of the latter, see NZ Catholic, August 13)

“Celebrating Mass is the most effective way of opening us all up to God’s mercy and healing,” said Fr Francis, who was the main celebrant, with Fr Don Don Rancho and Fr John Roberts concelebrating.

In breaking of the bread, many brought to this Mass their own pain, agonies and grief through the heartwrenching consequences of suicide. By re-entering the Lord’s own life, passion, death and Resurrection, this enabled many to not only entrust their loved-one to God’s unlimited mercy, but claim for themselves comfort and a certain joy.

In extending the warmest of welcomes to the 100 people who gathered around the altar in St Anne’s Catholic Church on October 14, Fr Francis stated that nothing — absolutely nothing can separate us from the love God has for each and every one of us.

After the homily, those present were invited to light a tea-light candle for their loved-one and these candles were respectfully placed on a specially decorated table positioned in front of the sanctuary steps.

Pausing during the Commemoration of the Dead in the eucharistic prayer, the 48 names written down in the All Souls Day Remembrance Book were read aloud and those who chose not receive Communion were given a special blessing. These made for three especially poignant moments during Mass.

A late morning tea was held afterwards, enabling time to talk and share in a non-judgemental environment and complete solidarity.

Opening this invitation out to not only parishioners but the wider Whanganui community was an evangelisation gesture offering God’s mercy to all, particulary those who may be still stuck in the older ways of thinking.

Advertising this memorial Mass which coincided with National Mental Health Awareness Week, through secular media was met with sincere co-operation by radio stations and a half page article in the local weekly newspaper. But the challenge was presented to the parishioners themselves to reach out to their friends, neighbours, family or work colleagues to make this invite personal.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354.

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