National Alliance on Mental Illness
page printed from FaithNet NAMI

In San Antonio, Faith Shines in a Candlelight Service

By Kathleen Vogtle, NAMI Communications Coordinator

It has been about three weeks now since the observance of Mental Illness Awareness Week, which always occurs in the first full week of October.

The impact of MIAW events lasts much longer. People who have organized or participated in community activities, raising public awareness and speaking out to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness, not only often feel personal satisfaction, but also cause for reflection.

That has been the experience of NAMI San Antonio that used MIAW to renew the energy and commitment of faith communities to support people living with mental illness. On Oct. 6, congregations across multiple religious denominations came together for a second annual Ecumenical Candlelight Service.

Amid the lighting of the candles, prayers were offered for those living with or recovering from mental illness, especially those living on the streets or imprisoned, and for those who have died as a result of mental illness.

Prayers were also said for the caregivers of those living with mental illness, who are themselves deeply affected:  family members and friends, healthcare providers and agencies. Finally, a blessing was given for clergy and congregations who reach out to all those affected by mental illness.

The Reverend Stuart Juleen, pastor at St. Brigid's parish that hosted the service, commented that each year the community looks forward to “drawing all religious communities together to provide an avenue of hope for those affected by mental illness.”

The Reverend Leo Perez,  professor of Moral Theology at Oblate School of Theology and healthcare liaison for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, added, “Uniting with other churches…is vital.”

The most moving points in the service, though, were the personal testimonies. A family member of a person living with mental illness came forward  and talked about the impact it has had on their entire family—causing faith to become a large part of their lives.

One of the participating clergy also shared his experience and how faith has been a tremendous help in his journey with depression.

“Awareness was really raised, especially among those who are not directly affected by mental illness,” said NAMI San Antonio event co-chair Carmen Oritz. “Just the fact that they participated opened their eyes and their hearts to how important it is to not have this stigma, and how hurtful it can be for both the individual living with mental illness and their family.”

Through the ecumenical gathering, the faith community of San Antonio has demonstrated that anyone living with mental illness is truly not alone. Regardless of one’s specific beliefs, they are surrounded by support. The vibrancy of the service also served as a reminder that mental illness does not discriminate. It is a universal experience, and therefore those affected deserve a universal commitment of support from all faiths and creeds.

“This openness is just now catching on,” Oritz explained. “People are more open to attending and in time, if it spreads like it should, we’re going to have more people come out and be open and say ‘our family is affected by mental illness.’ Once they come out and feel it’s okay, they receive more compassion. I think that is comforting for people.”

For more information and resources about faith communities and mental health, visit NAMI's FaithNet page.