LAVEEN — Etched on her face are the agonizing years of abuse, the pain so great that she can barely remember a period when it wasn’t happening.
“I can remember when I was 3 or 4, that my stepfather started abusing me,” she said, eyes rimmed with tears. “Then it was other father figures in my life, then a brother. It got to be where I thought it was normal.”
Along the way, into her teen years, Lola somehow found the courage to tell her mother; and thankfully, it stopped. When she became a mother, she wanted her daughters to grow up differently, so she watched them closely and monitored their relationships.
“But then one day, a van pulled up when my daughter was playing outside,” she said, weeping. “The man grabbed her, drove away with her in his van and raped her.”
Since that day, Lola and her family focus on prayer, togetherness and working with their parish priest to heal. She was among the approximately 300 who attended the semiannual Mass of Healing and Reconciliation for survivors of abuse and their families at St. John the Baptist Parish in Laveen, on the Gila River Pima Indian Reservation, Nov. 29.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted prayed with tearful victims of abuse, along with roughly 10 priests and deacons from the diocese who concelebrated and assisted at the Mass, sponsored by the diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection.
In his homily, given in English and Spanish, Bishop Olmsted said that all were gathered as a people of strong faith to heal from trauma and abuse in the Church and in their families.
“Mercy is greater than any sin. Mercy is greater than any evil or any darkness,” he explained. “Those in need, those suffering injustice and great sorrow in life can best understand the love of God, those who are most free to open their hearts and minds to a merciful God are the ones who are able to discover in Jesus the merciful face of the Father — we should never be afraid to draw near to Jesus, seeking His forgiveness, seeking whatever our heart and soul desires.”
Bishop Olmsted spoke of Jesus living every type of suffering. He also held out the hope of healing for those who have suffered the great loss of dignity.
“The mercy of God can be restored again and you can experience the fullness of life in Jesus,” he said. “Jesus became a human being so we could see and touch the One whose life is mercy. Perhaps there are people here who suffered many years from abuse, suffered without knowing, or doubting that healing was possible or that dignity could be restored. Please listen anew to words of God pronounced each year during the Advent season, in Isaiah 40:1: ‘Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.’”
Following the Mass, Bishop Olmsted met with each person, offering encouragement and hope.
The Mass was very powerful, said Anne Vargas-Leveriza, Office of Child and Youth Protection director.
“We were able to reach out to our Native American brothers and sisters in Christ in providing God’s mercy in healing those that have been affected by abuse,” she said.