A MEMORIAL IN Sutherland Springs, Tx. (CNS photo/Rick Wilking, Reuters)
A MEMORIAL IN Sutherland Springs, Tx. (CNS photo/Rick Wilking, Reuters)
Counselors and Catholics around the Albany Diocese have been seeing the same problems lately: grief, fear and pain.

The string of attacks that have mowed down innocent people in the United States, the natural disasters that have plagued the global community and people's own personal grief are causing many to need comfort and reassurance, especially as the holiday season approaches.

But Rev. Thomas Konopka, director of the diocesan Consultation Center in Albany -- a facility that offers psychological counseling and educational services -- cautions against developing a "siege mentality.

"People are afraid. Rightly so," he told The Evangelist. "People need to be prudent." But "as people of faith, where does our trust in God come in?"

Quoting a Buddhist adage, he said, "'Anger is me drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.'" If everyone begins to operate under the assumption that the world is unsafe, he noted, "we're going to create a state of anxiety people aren't going to be able to get away from."

'We Cry Out'
One helpful way of reducing stress is the kind of event Christ Our Light parish in Loudonville and others in the Diocese have planned: a session on dealing with grief around the holidays. Christ Our Light's is called, "We Cry Out: Moving from Fear to Faith during Tragic Times."

The "afternoon of prayer, song and comfort" is scheduled for Dec. 10, 2-3:30 p.m. It's the brainchild of Anne Samson, recently profiled in The Evangelist for the spiritual journaling classes she also leads. (Read that story at www.evangelist.org; call Christ Our Light parish at 518-459-6635.)

"People are in so much pain, with all the natural disaster events. And there's a lot of fear about the [current] political situation," Mrs. Samson explained.

In her own life, she's dealing with friends and family living in Puerto Rico and Houston, devastated by hurricanes, and a friend who lives near a volcano threatening eruption in Kuala Lumpur - "and then there's all the shootings. They just don't stop."

Mrs. Samson also has two children who are biracial, and she fears for them amid the racism that has surfaced in the country.

Comfort one another
"It's time to come together as a community to pray, to comfort each other and to move from fear to faith," she concluded.

Father Konopka sees that as an excellent idea. He said events like the Nov. 5 mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tx., are making some Catholics feel nervous about every unfamiliar face at Sunday Mass, and that's no way for the Church community to live.

"I'm not going to stop saying Mass because I'm afraid someone's going to walk in and open fire," he said. "When do we just relax and let ourselves enjoy worship? If a person comes in who has mental illness and is acting out, do we just throw them out of the community?"

Also pastor at St. Mary's parish in Clinton Heights and sacramental minister at St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph's parish in Rensselaer and an occasional assistant at the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany, Father Konopka observed that even the early Church faced some of the same issues. Roman spies came to gatherings of the first Christians, and it had to be decided whether to welcome everyone, even those who could be a danger. The Church community did so.

"I don't think this is a new problem," the priest and social worker remarked. "We're making it a new problem."

At Christ Our Light, Mrs. Samson will combat the grief and fear with intercessory prayer and spiritual readings, as well as songs based on the psalms.

She has recruited Carmen Lookshire, a young adult who serves as a cantor at the parish and performs original songs at area coffeehouses, to sing at the event.

Lord, why?
Miss Lookshire told The Evangelist that she will sing "Lord, Why," a song she wrote to help others through tough times. She believes anything that happens can serve a purpose and can have positive lessons, even the most dire circumstances.

"There are so many broken people. I think people need that encouragement," she said.

The refrain of her signature song states, "'Lord, why,' is not the question I should be asking, but, 'What can I learn from this? What can I learn?'"

Miss Lookshire will also sing hymns like, "Center of My Life," a reminder that God must be people's focus in times of need.

That's another sentiment with which Father Konopka agrees. He said that the current struggles in people's personal lives, in the country and in the world are a challenge to trust in God.

God's world
"We might be afraid, but we have to have confidence that God is going to take care of us," he said, noting that receiving the sacrament of reconciliation is also comforting: "I say, 'Here's what my sins are,' and trust God will forgive me."

The counselor also offered some practical advice: "Shut off the news; it keeps us in a constant state of alert. Go outside. Pray. Exercise. Engage our young people in conversation. Model to them that the world is a safe place and God is with us. Talk about the issues, but don't over-talk them."

Mrs. Samson invited Catholics to attend Christ Our Light's "We Cry Out" event. Among other similar events scheduled around the Diocese are:

* "Holiday Hope for the Bereaved," Nov. 19, 1 p.m., at The Community Hospice of Amsterdam. (Call Amy Weinar, 518-843-5412.)

* "Coping with the Holidays after a Loss," Nov. 21, 6:30 p.m., in the Marion Hall student lounge at Maria College in Albany. (Contact Ellie Dorn, 518-221-8239 or elliedorn@yahoo.com.)

* A "holiday service of remembrance" Dec. 11, 7 p.m., at the Greenwich Elks Club, which will include members of the clergy community from that area. (Call 518-695-3138 or 518-692-2680 for information.)

* A "Blue Christmas" prayer service Dec. 12, 7 p.m., at Our Lady of Victory parish in Troy, with refreshments afterward. (Call 518-273-7602.)

"Psalm 91 says we 'rest under the shadow of His wings,'" Father Konopka said. "This is God's world, and He's taking care of us."

(Contact the Consultation Center at 518-489-4431.)