Witnessing the Pietà

I have learned from Mary how to help those who mourn

Witnessing the Pietà

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It is nearing 5:30 p.m., the time when the family will arrive to this small country church called St. Mary Mother of Mercy. The candle flames in the sanctuary fill the absolute quiet with gently rolling greyish shadows. No sounds intrude from outside, not even from the five-lane highway that runs past the front door. There is no rush hour to speak of in this Florida town of Macclenny.

Its population of barely 3,900 is nestled just three miles from the Georgia border in a county that has less than a dozen traffic lights—most of them flashers. My experience in this ministry tells me that the sounds that will break the silence this evening will be the cries of agony and the gut-wrenching sobs of grief and loss that can come only from a bereft mother. A metallic knock on the frame of the church’s front door announces the family’s arrival. It is time for one such mother’s personal experience of La Pietà.

As I greet the mother, her adult children, and extended family, I am relieved that we have already spent much time together this week. The walk from the church vestibule to the front pew feels like a family processing behind the casket at a funeral: labored,…

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