By Deanna Sass

Pastoral Care Week is proud to be celebrating its 32nd year, scheduled this year for the week of Oct. 22-28 with the theme, “Hospitality: Cultivating Inclusion.”

Hospitality is a hallmark of excellent pastoral caregiving. It is the act of opening up one’s heart and ears to share in the pain and suffering of a fellow human being. It is receiving the story of another and holding that story as sacred. Hospitality assures the person who is receiving pastoral care that they are not alone in their time of need. They have a visible sign of God’s abiding love and presence, via the caregiver who is accompanying the person who is ill or struggling in any way on the journey of life. 

Pastoral Care Week began as an idea originating from the National Association of Catholic Chaplains in 1983. It had its first celebration among Catholic chaplains in 1985 and became a nationally celebrated multi-faith commemoration in 1987. Since then, it has become an international organization represented by every major religion worldwide.

According to its website, during this week “organizations and institutions throughout the world will recognize the spiritual needs of those we serve and the spiritual care given through professional chaplaincy and pastoral counseling within our communities.”

Chaplains, pastoral care counselors, educators and care providers, the website continues, will share in this year’s hospitality and inclusion theme.

Rachel Naomi Remen, an author, physician and spiritual director, writes, “…the opening of the heart [when offering pastoral care] seems to go far beyond love, to an experience of belonging, which heals our most profound wounds … in our suffering and our joy, we are connected to one another with unbreakable and compelling human bonds … and all of us become less vulnerable and alone.” 

Remen’s view of pastoral care is that of a presence that does not fix, but simply accompanies our fellow human beings through life’s challenges. 

Joseph Cardinal Bernadin, in his book, “A Gift of Peace,” wrote that “Pastoral ministry modeled on that of the Good Shepherd … is profound because the encounter transcends both the minister and the flock and brings both into deeper contact with God. So it is the great blessing of the person who cares for the sick, for they meet their Lord in each encounter with the persons they visit.”  

In this way, not only does the act of listening with one who is suffering transform his/her loneliness into a sense of belonging, it transforms the listener, as well.  Pastoral care is truly a ministry of mutuality. The blessings flow back and forth from human to human. 

In the Diocese of Trenton, Pastoral Care Week 2017 will be commemorated with daily prayers disseminated to all of our parishes, focusing on the various settings in which pastoral care can be offered, such as hospitals, nursing homes, jails and prisons, hospices, grief support groups, separated and divorced support groups, pro-life crisis pregnancy centers, homeless shelters and family homes. 

We will be honoring the priests, deacons, sisters, rabbis, imams, Protestant ministers and lay chaplains who serve the many institutions of our Diocese with a “Chaplains Appreciation Luncheon” on Oct. 26 in the Chancery, Lawrenceville.  We believe that since they bring the comfort of faith, hope and love to others 365 days a year, we can take one day to say, “Thank You!” 

We invite you to look for someone you may know who provides pastoral care and follow suit!

For more information on the diocesan Department of Pastoral Care, visit  

Deanna Sass is the diocesan director for the Department of Pastoral Care.