With the New Year in the rear view mirror, and resolutions in varied states of accomplishment or abandonment, parishes around the Diocese are providing programs to keep participants on the road to mental, physical and spiritual health, emphasizing the important integration of faith and wellness.

“For most people, faith contributes to good health. Study after study shows that people who attend religious services enjoy better health, live longer and recover from illness faster and with fewer complications. They also tend to cope better with illness and experience less depression. Among those who are seriously ill, many use their spiritual beliefs to cope with their illness,” said Kathy Marchese, a registered nurse and coordinator of the parish nursing ministry in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting.

Among the principle functions of the parish nursing ministry is promoting an understanding of relationships between faith and health, and providing educational activities which explore the relationship between values, attitudes and lifestyles.

The ministry also coordinates support groups, including an exercise club and stretching and balancing class, with prayer an important part of both.

“A survey of Americans on prayer reported that more than 90 percent of Americans pray, 74 percent at least once a day. Engaging in ritual activities such as prayer or meditation, promotes relaxation, which is characterized by lowered blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and metabolic rate. This may have a protective effect, particularly against high blood pressure,” stressed Marchese.

Faith & Decision-Making

Now in its third year, St. Denis Parish, Manasquan, offers the Daniel Plan, a groundbreaking healthy lifestyle program founded on biblical principles and focused on five essentials: faith, food, fitness, focus and friends.

The program, developed by Christian Pastor Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose-Driven Life,” and Drs. Daniel Amen and Mark Hyman, offers an innovative approach to achieving a healthy lifestyle where people get better together by optimizing their health in each of these five life areas. The program is open to anyone who is looking to improve their health using Bible-based principles.

Monica Butler, parish facilitator of the Daniel Plan, explained that the program begins with the faith element, which serves as the foundation of the entire program and teaches that God is the power and energy behind all transformational change, including the lifestyle choices necessary to become healthy.

“We help people realize that we should depend on God for everything, and ask for divine help and support when we find we can’t get healthy on our own,” said Butler, who introduced the program to the parish after successfully losing 40 pounds by following the plan.

If the thank-you notes he’s received from participants are any metric, the program has been well-received and successful, said Father William Lago, pastor. “It’s a holistic approach that addresses all aspects of a person’s life. It’s not just diet. There’s a positive impact to the friendship of the group, and in their learning more about faith and health,” he said.

It’s All Connected

This focused outreach, touching on the varied aspects of life, has also been successful in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, where a monthly discussion series addresses a number of important topics including Getting Healthy: Body, Mind and Spirit; Love and Marriage; Declutter Your Life; Positive Aging; Be Prepared: Final Wishes, and a host of others.

The series, now in its fourth year, was developed and sponsored by Kathy Lo Bue, parish chairwoman for Faith in Our Future and managing director of Glen Eagle Advisors, Freehold. She is assisted by Loretta Kuhnert, co-chair with Lo Bue of the FIOF evangelization sub-committee. Kuhnert does all the research on topics and arranges for the speakers.

Lo Bue explained that her work as a financial adviser has put her in the unique position of being front and center to the challenges of people’s lives – caring for loved ones, dealing with chronic illness, losing a spouse and facing loneliness, particularly as a senior.

It became apparent to her that giving people the information and resources they needed to help meet those challenges and reduce their anxiety would lead to better health.  The series begins with the Getting Healthy: Body, Mind, Spirit discussion, said Lo Bue, which, this year, was facilitated, in part, by  Louis Monticchio, a parishioner in St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton, and director of pastoral care at Visiting Nurse Association Health Group hospice.

Monticchio’s presentation on spiritual health, said Lo Bue, establishes a foundation for the series that resonates with participants of all faiths, noting that “there is something bigger than us, and we need to let that into our lives.”

In St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, the Light Weigh Catholic Bible Study DVD program being introduced will provide participants an opportunity to grow in faith and lose weight at the same time, focusing more on decision-making made in the light of faith. The program will be facilitated by Liz Deluhery, who was successful in her own weight-loss challenge when participating in the program in 2011.

Suzanne Fowler, creator of the nationally known-program, now celebrating its 20th year, explained, “Peace with food is a process – but the process is not that long in the scheme of things, when you are talking about a lifetime of freedom from overeating or any of the other numerous struggles people have used [the program] to overcome.”

Moving Forward Together

Integral to the success of all these initiatives is the ability to build community and form relationships.

“Socialization is important to promote health benefits, and having strong connections with the outside world appears to reap many rewards,” stressed Marchese.

According to a panel of experts appearing before a Senate Committee on Aging in 2017, isolation is the silent killer affecting some eight million seniors in the United States. The resulting loneliness increases the risk for depression, dementia and premature death.

When helping people envision the next step in life, whether in light of a death or simply when moving toward achieving some goal, said Lo Bue, “It’s important to be able to discuss things freely, in an environment where no one feels judged, in a place that feels safe.”

Very often, that safe place is a faith community.

Marchese agrees, noting that belonging to a faith community often impacts behavior and emotions. “People who belong to religious communities are less likely to smoke or abuse alcohol or drugs, and are more inclined to view physical activity as a priority.”

Forgiveness as a religious practice, allowing for the release of anger and hatred, is also an important factor. “There’s evidence that forgiving others promotes mental and physical well-being,” Marchese stressed.