By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published October 18, 2018
NEWNAN—As the sun set on Oct. 1, a group of nearly 30 parishioners gathered at St. Mary Magdalene Church to pray for survivors of sexual abuse.
The Newnan parish held a candlelight vigil in its Garden of Our Lady as day turned to night to offer support for victims of abuse.
Father Terry Crone, pastor of St. Mary Magdalene, organized the service weeks after the news that hundreds of incidences of child sex abuse had occurred in Pennsylvania dioceses over numerous decades.
“It was the Pennsylvania grand jury report. People were interested in doing something,” said Father Crone about the community’s reaction.
The parish has held vigils in the past for victims of accidents or other tragedies. Additionally, a parishioner and licensed professional counselor, Joyce Divinyi Keith, offered to lead a program on how to talk to children about sexual predators.
A counselor for 30 years, Keith will present the program at the church on Sunday, Oct. 28.
Since most sexual abuse is committed by someone known to the victim, the program will focus on how adults can talk to their children about what to do if approached or touched inappropriately.
“What I want to do is help parents and grandparents to talk to children,” said Keith.
Also vital is the response to young people when they share information about being victimized.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” is a common response, Keith said, but that reaction often makes the victim feel as if they are to blame instead of the perpetrator.
“I just think it’s one way to shine the light,” she said of the importance of having a vigil. These abuses “happened in the dark, in secret.”
“It’s been going on since the dawn of mankind,” added Keith.
Father Crone sees the two events, both the vigil and the awareness program, as “bookends” for October, which is Respect Life Month. Promoting the dignity of human life includes working to prevent abuse.
“We have to be pro-life across the board,” he said.
As sounds of children playing on neighboring soccer fields punctuated the night air, attendees took small white candles from a basket.
Members of the choir, and music director Johnny Holloway, led the group in singing the opening hymn, “Day Is Done.”
“Shadows fall, but hope, prevailing, calms every fear,” they sang.
“In putting this together, one of the themes I wanted to emphasize was light shining out into the darkness,” Father Crone told the group.
The priest shared a story of an historic mountainside church in Switzerland with no lights. When the church bells started ringing, it was up to the parishioners to supply illumination.
“The people brought light with them in lanterns,” he said. “If only a few people came to church, the light would be dim.”
The more people who attended church, the brighter the sanctuary.
“We are called to be light in the church,” said Father Crone. “We do live in dark days, but it is nothing new.”
The struggle against sin and evil has existed since the time of Adam to the apostles and today, he noted.
Father Crone reminded the group of the nature of the church. “It is divine, but it is also human,” he said.
As the church deals with past and current abuse scandals, the pastor said that individuals might begin to feel inconsequential and ask, “What can I do in the face of so much?”
“That is not the case,” said Father Crone.
He reminded them that everything one does in service to another person is a gift during this time and shared the motto of The Christophers, “It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”
A Maryknoll priest, Father James Keller, founded The Christophers in 1945 because of his belief that each individual has a special, God-given task in life that belongs to no other.
The consoling readings of the St. Mary Magdalene vigil included the second reading from Revelation 21: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away. The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold I make all things new.’”
During the prayers of the faithful the group prayed for strong advocates to bring about transformation in the church, that Pope Francis and the bishops would “heed the prompting of the Holy Spirit,” for those working to create safe environments, and that parents and teachers would be ever “vigilant to the signs of abuse.”
The group also prayed for abuse victims who turned to suicide or suffer from addictions, as well as those who have abandoned their faith.
Dawn Gehde was among those attending the vigil. She entered the church in 2013 through the RCIA program at St. Mary Magdalene.
Gehde wanted to show “solidarity” with survivors by attending. Having experienced suffering and difficult experiences in her own life, she knows she will persevere during this trial in the church.
“It strengthens my hope in the church,” said Gehde about the vigil and upcoming presentation for parents. “My faith is stronger.”
A “Prayer for Our Church” closed the evening vigil and was printed in the program for parishioners to keep.
“For the survivors of abuse and their families, pour out your healing and your peace,” prayed the group in petition to God. “For the bishops of this country, continue to inspire their decisions and guide them with your Spirit. … We place our Church in your hands, for without you we can do nothing.”