Joan Capaldi was vacuuming the living room of her Seneca Falls home when she felt something on her shoulder. She turned around, but there was no one there. She sensed, however, that God was giving her instructions.
"God spoke to me, but not like you and I are speaking. I didn’t hear it. I felt it," she recently told the Catholic Courier. "I felt God wanted me to go ahead and get a cancer thing going."
As a result of that request, Capaldi helped plan and host a pair of prayer services in Waterloo and Seneca Falls for patients and caregivers dealing with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. That was two years ago, and the services were so well-received that St. Francis and St. Clare Parish is planning to host a pair of similar prayer services this fall, according to Lena Shipley, pastoral associate at the parish.
"From one parishioner’s inspiration it just blossomed into a beautiful, simple encounter with the Lord," she said.
St. Francis and St. Clare will hold a prayer service for patients, families and caregivers dealing with Alzheimer’s or dementia at 2 p.m. Sept. 8 at St. Patrick Church, which is located at 97 W. Bayard St. in Seneca Falls. The parish will hold a prayer service for cancer patients and their families and caregivers at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 6 at St. Mary Church, which is located at 35 Center St. in Waterloo. Each prayer service will include prayer, Scripture readings, songs and a guided meditation specific to either cancer or Alzheimer’s and dementia.
"I really do think (the services) are one of a kind. They are really powerful. We’ve got it on our schedule this year and I’m really thrilled," Shipley added.
After Capaldi was inspired to look into starting a prayer service for cancer patients and their families two years ago, she called Father Jim Fennessy, pastor, and told him about her idea. She expected him to brush off her suggestion but he didn’t, she recalled.
"He said absolutely we can do this," Capaldi said.
Capaldi, Shipley and Father Fennessy put their heads together and came up with an outline they thought the prayer service should follow. The resulting service began with a gathering song, followed by a welcome, an opening prayer, a Psalm and a reading from the Gospel. A cancer survivor shared a personal testimonial about relying on faith during trying times and then Shipley read a guided meditation that she’d written from the point of view of a cancer patient. She based the meditation on the New Testament story of a woman afflicted by a hemorrhage who believed she would be healed if she could just touch Jesus. Shipley likened the woman’s situation to that of cancer patients encountering Jesus in the contemporary world, she said.
After listening to the meditation, many in the church that day felt they’d truly encountered Jesus as well, Shipley added. After the meditation people were invited to come forward and write their prayer intentions in a book while the Litany of the Saints was sung. Father Fennessy then offered people the opportunity to receive anointing of the sick before closing the service with more prayer and song.
"People just walked away truly having encountered Jesus. The power flows from the sacrament and the guided meditation," Shipley said.
More than 100 people attended that prayer service, and even more probably would have come if they’d known what a powerful experience it would be, she added. The service went so well that Shipley, Capaldi and Father Fennessy brainstormed to determine whether parishioners had other spiritual needs that might be met through similar prayer services. They identified Alzheimer’s and dementia and immediately began planning another prayer service.
"I think most families have been touched by (those conditions) in one way or another, either directly or indirectly," explained Father Fennessy, whose own father suffered from Alzheimer’s for many years and whose mother attended the service. "I think special situations like that call for it. They affect one’s spirituality."
The second prayer service didn’t draw quite as many people, perhaps because those caring for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia often find it difficult to get out of the house and to church, he said. These caregivers and family members often are under a tremendous amount of stress, so this prayer service was just as much for them as it was for the patients, Shipley remarked. During the second prayer service Shipley read another guided meditation she’d written, this one from the perspective of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia who thanks family members and caregivers for all their help despite the patient’s frequent silence.
"They also let their caregivers know, from the depths of that silence, that they have a new connection with God in their darkness and aloneness," Shipley said. "You could see (people) were visibly touched and it was a healing experience for them."
"It was very powerful. There were those who had tears," Father Fennessy added.