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Special liturgy for survivors of suicide loss

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SAN DIEGO — Those who have experienced the loss of a loved one by suicide are invited to a special liturgy on Saturday, Sept. 4.

Organized by the diocesan Office for Life, Peace and Justice and the Office for Family Life and Spirituality, the third annual Mass for Survivors of Suicide Loss will be celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan at 5 p.m. at San Rafael Parish in Rancho Bernardo.

“I want (survivors of suicide loss) to know that they’re not alone,” said Bishop Dolan, who lost three family members to suicide and is co-editor of the award-winning books “Responding to Suicide: A Pastoral Handbook for Catholic Leaders” and “When a Loved One Dies by Suicide.”

Bishop Dolan, who will deliver the homily at the upcoming Mass, will be assisted at the altar by Deacon Bill Adsit, director of the diocesan Mental Health Ministry Network. Mass-goers will be invited to lay a white flower at the feet of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in remembrance of a loved one who died by suicide. The lectors will be survivors of suicide loss.

The Mass will be preceded by a workshop on suicide awareness and prevention presented by Michele Madden, director of support and prevention programs with the nonprofit Survivors of Suicide Loss. The presentation, which will begin at 4 p.m., is the latest installment in the Family Life and Spirituality Office’s Healing Pathways for Families workshop series, which equips parish leaders and interested parishioners to better minister to today’s families.

Deacon Adsit said the workshop will offer “very practical information on suicide prevention.”

“This workshop is open to all and could literally save someone’s life this year,” he said.

The Mass coincides with National Suicide Prevention Week, which will be observed this year from Sept. 5 through Sept. 11. The Mass is part of an ongoing diocesan effort to promote suicide prevention and open discussion of mental health issues.

“Over 60 families who attended the annual Mass for Survivors of Suicide Loss have expressed gratitude for coming together as a community to pray and remember their loved ones. … They realize that they are not alone in this mourning process,” said Maria Valencia, associate director for culture of life in the Office for Life, Peace and Justice.

The Catholic Church still teaches that suicide represents a serious matter. However, thanks to a deeper understanding of human psychology, the Church now recognizes that mental illness can limit a person’s free choice and therefore diminish culpability for suicide.

“Suicide has always been part of human history. It’s one of the sad tragedies of human history,” said Bishop Dolan, “and the Church’s response has improved over the many years as we have had a better understanding of … what goes on in the human mind.”

He hopes that families rocked by suicide will be able to talk about it “like other deaths,” he said, describing suicide as “a disease” like cancer.

Deacon Adsit said, “My greatest hope is that attendees will leave with peace, knowing that they are not alone, that their loved ones are not forgotten, and with a sense of hope that intervention is possible and may lessen the possibility that another person will experience the tragedy they are living through.”

For more information, or to provide the names of loved ones who died by suicide to be included in a special book of prayer, email bolivero@sdcatholic.org or call (858) 490-8299.

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