Tioga parishioners hope to spread blanket ministry - Catholic Courier

Tioga parishioners hope to spread blanket ministry

A blanket’s softness is precious to a small child. However, as a new ministry in Tioga County has proven, that feeling doesn’t necessarily fade with age.

Consider Gordie Stevens, a 54-year-old Elmira resident who was diagnosed with bone cancer in April 2003. “It’s been a long ordeal,” he said.

During a visit this past winter, close friends Joe and Fran Kobziewicz gave Stevens a small plaid blanket from their parish community, Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick in Tioga County. The Kobziewiczs explained that the blankets had been blessed and touched by numerous parishioners.

“It was very uplifting. It was just remarkable that there are people out there praying for me,” said Stevens, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes in Elmira.

The blanket continues to carry deep meaning for Stevens and his wife, Carol. “I’m pretty bedridden and we pray every day, laying the blanket over me,” he said. “I have it within arm’s reach of me all the time ‚Ķ it’s beautiful.”

The idea for a prayer-blanket outreach at Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick came from parishioner Sue Ballard, who, while visiting relatives last summer, had observed a similar effort at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Fairfield Glade, Tenn. Ballard then shared her observations with Betty D’Arcy, recently retired pastoral associate for Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick, who got the ministry started a few months later.

Using funds provided by the parish to purchase materials, a volunteer crew set to work. Participants were Ballard and D’Arcy along with Joann Cooney, Pat Jones, Gloria Masters, Bobbie Smith, Ceil Zendarski and Kathy Scherter. A total of 70 small blankets were made by cutting fleece strips and tying them together. According to a parish bulletin notice, they are designated “for those who are suffering physically, mentally or spiritually because of illness, death in the family, difficult pregnancy, etc.” Ballard noted that men often receive red plaid blankets; women, light pink or fuschia; and children, “Precious Moments” or a flower design in light pink or light blue.

Blankets are kept at St. Patrick Church in Owego, and can be brought to any of the other Tioga-area churches as well — St. John the Evangelist, Newark Valley; St. Francis, Catatonk; St. James, Waverly; St. Pius X, Van Etten; or St. Margaret Mary, Apalachin. Before reaching its recipient, each blanket first receives a special blessing. During Mass, the celebrant prays over the blanket and encourages worshipers to do the same by laying their hands on it while exiting church. Then the person who requested the blanket may bring it to the recipient.

“We prefer that the whole community is able to lay their hands on it. It seems overwhelming that most people do, even if they don’t know the person,” Ballard said.

Being informed of this process can sometimes bring a recipient to tears, Ballard said. “You can tell that person the whole community is praying for you, and that’s wonderful. But when you have something tangible like this and can lay it on the person, it’s a (deeper) symbol.”

The blanket ministry also carries special meaning to Ballard, a retired nurse who said that “my faith was always a great part of my hands-on healing.”

Because this outreach is new to the parishes, Ballard said most of the prayer blankets are still awaiting owners: “It seems like we have a lot of people who are invalid or ill. All we need is for people to request them.”

As for blankets that have already been distributed, they have become prized possessions — not only for the Stevens, but also for Joan Dizer and her husband, Deacon Bob Dizer, retired parish deacon at St. Patrick’s.

Deacon Dizer has been paralyzed since an accident in 1997. He has often been in and out of the hospital since then, including a particularly rough stretch earlier this year. In April, while he was staying at Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., a blanket was left at the Dizer home. Although nobody else was present when his wife brought him the blanket, Joan Dizer recalled, “It was really like the whole community came — very much a reminder of everyone, their caring and prayers.”

“The idea of people touching it was, really, touching,” she added with a laugh. “It does mean a lot. He would ask for it.”

Deacon Dizer returned home May 5 and his health is improving, his wife said. She also noted that they plan to continue using the prayer blanket, perhaps putting it over Deacon Dizer’s knees when she takes him for walks.

Its sacredness carried over to the hospital staff as well, Joan observed. After she explained the blanket ministry to one inquisitive caregiver, “He said ‘Oh, we must be very careful of it.’ Then he folded it and put it over the back of a chair,” she said.

“It just made a big impression with everyone.”

To request a prayer blanket or to become involved in making them, call the Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parish office at 607/687-1068.

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