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placeholder June 27, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 12   •   Oakland, CA
Senior Living & Resources

Natalia Palizada (left) is about to receive Communion from Evelina Riley, right, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion from Oakland's Sacred Heart Church. Angelita Read (center) another lay minister, prays and visits the older woman who lives in the Hotel Oakland Village, a residence for low-income seniors in downtown Oakland.

Parishes' homebound ministries bring faith,
concern to shut-ins

When she arrives at the door of the apartment, Evelina Riley knocks loudly on the wooden door, turns the doorknob, opens the door and says in a loud voice, "Sister, Sister, we are here."

Need help?
Contact your parish to see if its homebound ministry can bring Communion to you.
Riley walks into the small apartment first, followed by Angelita Read and Ida Calica, and greets the white-haired woman, wearing a white jacket, seated in a wheelchair. The room soon fills with conversation and laughter as the woman, Natalia Palizada, her eyes nearly closed shut, nods her head and responds to the sounds of the familiar voices. The women begin talking in a mixture of Tagalog and English.

"How are you feeling?"

"Have you eaten this morning?"

"When is your caregiver coming over?"

As the conversation continues, Riley spreads out a small, square white cloth on a green placemat on the table and places a small crucifix, a small ceramic bowl containing a white candle and a round container called a pyx, which holds the Holy Eucharist.
After the small talk dies down, Riley, a member of Oakland's Sacred Heart Parish, opens the missal that she brought and the four women make the sign of the cross. "This is the holy Gospel according to Luke," she says and starts reading the Gospel. After the reading, Riley asks Palizada questions about the Gospel message. "How does Jesus want us to pray?" The older woman remains seated in her wheelchair. "Jesus wants us to pray for other people, world leaders and the priests. We have to pray very hard," she replies in a husky voice.

Riley later explained that the question-and-answer session, which included questions from Read and Calica, was included to help the older woman exercise her brain. "Getting them talking is like therapy," Riley said.

After the Gospel discussion, Read leads the group as they pray aloud the Lord's Prayer, then Riley removes the host from the pyx and Natalia holds it near Palizada's face. "The body of Christ," Riley says. "Amen," replies the older woman, who parts her lips to receive the Eucharist.

Later, after leaving Palizada's room at the Hotel Oakland Village, Riley said that the older woman herself had been taking Communion to the homebound and shut-ins for a number of years before health problems forced her to cut down and eventually end her ministry as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

These extraordinary ministers help priests and deacons, who are ordinary ministers of the Eucharist, distribute holy Communion to the members of a parish who can't go to Mass temporarily while recovering from an illness, and they bring the Eucharist to those who are no longer able to go to church because of an illness, disability or problems with mobility due to age. Extraordinary ministers also take communion to people in hospitals, assisted living facilities and rest homes.

A good number of parishes in the Diocese of Oakland have a ministry to the homebound. Each faith community that responded to a recent query from The Catholic Voice approaches the ministry differently.

At St. Joseph Parish in Pinole, the homebound ministry is made up of 13 trained and dedicated ministers who bring Communion to about 44 parishioners, said Sister Celine Pathiaparambil, who coordinates the outreach. "The number of people receiving Communion changes week by week," she said. Some extraordinary minister of holy Communion, she added, take Communion to their own family members who are sick or homebound.

People who are sick at home or their caregivers contact the parish office and request a Communion visit. The parish also responds to calls from hospitals or nursing homes within the parish's boundaries. "We take Communion to them once a week, mainly on a weekday," Sister Celine said. "Confession and anointings are also provided according to the need."

Rev. Luke Ssemakula, parochial vicar at St. John Vianney Parish in Walnut Creek, heads up the Pastoral Care Ministers and is the "first point of contact for families and friends," said Maryann V. Richards, the parish secretary. The priest, who spends Wednesday afternoons visiting the homebound, has a team of about 45 ministers who visit the homebound at their homes or nursing homes/board and care homes.

At least three parishioners of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Oakland regularly bring "The Sacred Host" to parishioners who are homebound, said Rev. Glenn Naguit via email. Father Naguit and Canon Olivier Meney also visit the sick of the parish and visit nearby Highland Hospital to administer the anointing of the sick.

Meanwhile, at St. Jerome Parish in El Cerrito, Deacon Ben Agustin visits the homebound every Tuesday to bring the Eucharist, said Rev. Fernando Cortez, St. Jerome pastor. Otherwise, calls may come through the office for special visits to home or hospital for the anointing of the sick.

"We have approximately eight ministers on our list of which about four Eucharist ministers are visiting homes, care or assisted living centers each week" said Helene Vizcarra, who manages the ministry to the homebound at St. Mary Parish in Walnut Creek. "When a person calls in for Communion to be brought to them, I take the call and make sure they are in St. Mary Church area. I then send an email to my ministers requesting one of them to get back with me if they are able to visit and give Communion to the person or persons.

"We also work in conjunction with our hospital ministry (Kaiser, Walnut Creek) headed by Angeles Ron, to make sure our St. Mary Catholics and all Catholics are taken care of," Vizcarra said.

Esther Yee, an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion for more than 30 years at Holy Spirit Parish in Fremont and coordinator of the parish's ministers, first began bringing holy Communion to her sick mother before she died several years ago. Some ministers also take Communion to a family member.

Yee, who is married to retired Deacon Richard Yee, said that visiting the sick or aged is a way to continue to include the sick and shut-ins in the life of the parish. In addition to Communion, Yee also brings with her the parish bulletin that can be read later but most importantly through her ministry she brings her presence, time and friendship to those who may feel cut off from their formerly active lives.

Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion do not make these visits alone. "They bring God with them," she said.

As Evelina Riley, Angelita Read and Ida Calica leave Natalia Palizada's apartment at in downtown Oakland, the older woman says her good-byes and adds, "Thank you for coming."

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