By Maria Benoit, BCC
As I landed in Milwaukee on Saturday morning, I could not help thinking that this was the first time I would be with so many chaplains, from all over the country, in one place. Although I have been at gatherings and conferences, these conferences have been regional. I wondered what kinds of spiritual gifts would be waiting to unfold.
Many first-time NACC conference-goers were among
those present at the 2012 National Conference in Milw-
aukee. The 2013 NACC National Conference will be held
in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Laurie Hansen Cardona)
Unfortunately I arrived too early to check into my room, but it is my nature to be early so I am not unaccustomed to wait for my room to be ready. Conference check-in and registration went smoothly and I was given my badge with a ribbon proclaiming my "first time" status. Ordinarily that would not be welcomed, this calling attention to myself, but I was feeling fortunate to be able to attend. It has struck me that I have been a board certified chaplain for five years. The blessings that have revealed themselves through my ministry have neither been lost nor have they somehow become ordinary since the first time I knocked on a patient’s door and introduced myself as chaplain. Instead, the joy has increased with time and the knowledge that I have matured in my calling.
I was eager to engage the conference theme and share ministry experiences with my colleagues. Reconciliation is a theme of many bedside stories told by families and patients as I sit and listen to the narrative of their lives together, especially at end of life.
The first speaker, Dr. Vanessa White, talked to us about the need to practice self-care and reconciliation within ourselves in order to help others with their brokenness. Sr. Jean deBlois spoke of chaplains as a reconciling presence within our caregiving communities. She used the term reconciliation as “re-establishing right relationships within our communities of care.” Sr. Jean’s lens was in terms of a moral, ethical and social teaching. She went on say that it is through a team of people that this endeavor can be accomplished. The third plenary speaker was Bishop Blase Cupich, who joined us on Monday and spoke to us about “A Reconciling Church: Recapturing Our Mission and Future.” He asked us to spend time in table conversation to discover what gifts and skills we can offer to refocus the Catholic mission. The last plenary speaker, Father John Dear, known for his work in peace and non-violence, gave a passionate call for chaplains to look at the big picture and get involved in global reconciliation issues.
The three days were filled with an infusion of education as well as compassionate sharing by and with other chaplains. The workshops allowed for new ways of interacting with those we serve. The plenary speakers helped to put into context what it means to be a reconciling presence.
As the conference came to a close and I reflect on the three days of workshops, plenary speakers, liturgies and table fellowship, I am re-energized and affirmed in ministry knowing that the challenges as well as joys that I experience are the same for my colleagues. I am also deeply grateful that there are so many graced-filled women and men engaged in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ with such a compassionate and selfless presence.
Maria Benoit is manager of pastoral care/chaplain at D'Youville Senior Care in Lowell, MA.
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