Sammy Cibulka, 17, was among hundreds of people who received an Anointing of the Sick during a special Mass Feb. 26. Priests, alongside the Order of Malta, care for the sick through prayer and companionship. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Anointing of the Sick
The sacrament finds its roots in James 5:13-15:

“Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.”

Sammy Cibulka, a 17-year-old Brophy student who has been battling a rare form of an aggressive cancer, stood before Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted to receive the Anointing of the Sick.

The Cibulkas were among hundreds who came from every corner of the diocese Feb. 26 to the Mass of Anointing at St. Thomas the Apostle Church that marked the World Day of the Sick. The pews were packed with those battling cancer, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injuries and other ailments.

Like all the sacraments, the Anointing of the Sick was instituted by Christ to impart grace. The Catholic Church teaches, in accordance with Scripture, that through the sacrament, Christ heals the sick from their sins, and sometimes, from their ailments. In the Cibulka family’s case, they were praying Sammy would be healed of the cancer that’s been ravaging his body. He’s endured a grueling 48 weeks of intensive chemotherapy and radiation.

Two days after the anointing, Sammy underwent scans to see if the cancer had been conquered. The following week, the family received the news they’d hoped and prayed for: The cancer was gone.

Sacrament of the sick

Anointing is offered to all those suffering serious illness, facing surgery or coping with the burdens of old age. Many times, it’s given as death approaches.

Fr. Ryan Lee, ordained to the priesthood last June, said his first experience anointing someone tookplace about a week after he began his assignment at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Glendale.

“It was just an indescribable experience,” Fr. Lee said. The elderly woman he anointed was surrounded by family members. “Being able to comfort those who mourn in that way, in His image and in His name — it’s just quite an emotional experience.”

Fr. Lee said he finds strength and consolation in ministering to the sick and dying. “I’m able to receive their suffering in a particular way, and I can carry it with them and for them as Jesus does, and then give it over to Him for their health, for their recovery and for their protection.”

Vital mission

Sammy Cibulka and his mother Theresa after the World Day of the Sick Mass Feb. 26 at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish. (Joyce Coronel/CATHOLIC SUN)

The annual Mass of Anointing, sponsored by the Order of Malta, is devoted to caregivers and their families, who took in the words of Bishop Olmsted’s bilingual homily.

“The mission of those who are sick is a vital one,” Bishop Olmsted said. “The Church knows that it’s a valuable thing to unite your suffering with Christ. There are many favors that come to the Church because of this.”

Emphasizing the constant, unconditional love of God, the bishop noted that “when we are sick our trust in God’s love is put to the test,” but that suffering can be “full of meaning when we join it with the sufferings of our Redeemer.”

Cibulka said the anointing he received from the bishop was deeply moving. “I felt really blessed and humbled to know that all these people cared about me,” he said.

Theresa Cibulka, his mom, acknowledged the battle against cancer has been tough and that it’s both shaken and deepened the family’s faith.

“He’s been amazing through all this — he’s never complained. He’s never asked ‘Why me?’”

Jenna Symancyk, 29, was flanked by her parents for the anointing. She’s been fighting complications from Lyme disease for years during which time she’s often been bedridden and unable to work. Last year she was too ill to attend the World Day of the Sick Mass.

That’s when the Order of Malta invited her to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes as a Malade. Each year the order takes the sick and disabled, or Malades, to visit the site in southern France where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858. Symancyk said God healed the lesions in her brain in Lourdes. Receiving the anointing again at the Feb. 26 Mass, she said, brought back those memories.

“To be here is just an answer to so many prayers,” Jenna’s mother, Maryann Symancyk said.

The Order of Malta has about 75 knights and dames in the Phoenix Diocese. James McGee has been a knight for about a dozen years.

“Our mission is to take care of the poor and the sick. It’s so special to them to know that there are people who care and want to look after them,” McGee said.

Source of strength

The Anointing of the Sick is often given to patients in hospitals and hospices or to the faithful at their parishes.

Fr. Jose Cornelia, parochial vicar of Resurrection Parish in Tempe, visits the hospital and hospices frequently. He said people have asked to be baptized on their deathbeds or have confessed they’ve been away from the Church for decades. Families who call him to administer the Last Rites for their loved ones — which includes the Anointing of the Sick — also receive consolation and strength.

“They cry when they see the priest,” Fr. Cornelia said. “I tell them, ‘The Church is happy to receive you.’” Sometimes, instead of dying, the person recovers.

“I tell them, ‘It’s not me — it’s your faith and I am just that instrument of the healing.’”