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Special ministry brings peace to parishioners

When George Lamperti’s mother was diagnosed with lung cancer almost 20 years ago, he wanted to help himself and his family work through the challenges that come with a terminal disease.

That’s when he turned to Stephen Ministries, a one-to-one lay ministry that equips and empowers caregivers – called Stephen Ministers – to provide high-quality, confidential, Christ-centered care to people who are hurting.

Lamperti, who received 50 hours of training to become a Stephen Minister for St. Mary Parish in Bellevue, said the skills he began learning almost immediately helped him and his family work through their feelings and find peace as they worked through his mother’s illness, and her death more than a year later. It also provided him with opportunities to help more people over the years through the ministry.

Now, to honor the recent death of his father, Lamperti said he wants to more actively promote the ministry at St. Mary Parish and beyond. In January, he attended national leadership training for the ministry, and he hopes to assist parishes in establishing or re-establishing the ministry.

Nationally, Stephen Ministries are in more than 12,000 Christian congregations and other organizations, representing more than 170 Christian denominations.

St. Mary and at least three other parishes in the archdiocese have Stephen Ministries: St. Columbkille in Papillion, St. Stephen the Martyr in Omaha and St. Charles Borromeo in Gretna.

But Stephen Ministers could be an asset in every parish, especially because priests, deacons and other religious are so busy, Lamperti said.

Stephen Ministers help people through difficulties such as loss of a job or home, health issues, death in the family and divorce. They listen, pray and help guide people – confidentially, Lamperti said.

"We have the opportunity to remind them that God loves them and cares for them," he said. "Jesus provides the healing; we facilitate Jesus’ work."

Stephen Ministers aren’t professional counselors, and many who express interest in the service don’t always have the skills to minister to others. That’s why every Stephen Minister receives 50 hours of initial training. They attend weekly classes for eight to nine months, led by nationally trained leaders in the ministry such as Lamperti, known as Stephen leaders. The classes include role playing and case scenarios.

Stephen Ministers are commissioned at a Mass, receive continuing education every month, and attend twice-monthly meetings with Stephen Leaders.

Stephen Ministry requires some financial involvement, Lamperti said. National training costs about $1,500, and local training includes a $39 textbook for each participant.

Sister Clarice Faltus, pastoral minister and coordinator of the ministry at St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Omaha, said the training helps people minister to others who might need someone to listen and care.

"Stephen Ministers are trained to really listen to whatever it is that the care receiver needs to talk about," she said.

The ministry, which has been at St. Stephen the Martyr Parish for nearly 13 years, has made a tremendous impact on the 154 people who have received care so far, she said.

"Some tell us that they were at a point in their lives where they would not have made it without their Stephen Minister’s weekly visit," Sister Faltus said. "Others are just lonely and need someone to make a regular visit."

Those who reach out for help through the ministry are "always so grateful for the unselfish gift of time given them by a Stephen Minister," she said.