Moline women wrap devastated Joplin parish in prayer, hope

Photo Caption: Maria Luebbers, a member of the Sacred Heart Comforters quilting ministry in Moline, concentrates on the stitches in her prayer shawl.

By: By Jennifer Willems

MOLINE — In the May 15 parish bulletin for St. Mary’s Church in Joplin, Mo., there were suggestions for how to create an emergency plan and a checklist for what should be included in an emergency kit.

As it turns out, parishioners had to use those plans a little sooner than anyone expected.

On May 22, an EF-5 tornado ripped through Joplin, devastating the community and destroying the sanctuary of St. Mary’s Church, as well as the elementary school, rectory, parish hall and St. Vincent de Paul building.

Left without much, the Joplin parishioners have been working to pick up the pieces of their lives, but they haven’t had to do it alone. They have been able to wrap themselves in prayer and comfort offered in the form of prayer shawls and quilts sent to them by two groups of caring women from Sacred Heart Parish in Moline.

“I think it is very important that we as a faithful group and as a parish could take this small step to help another parish that is in such great need,” said Mary Veys, a member of the Sacred Heart Comforters quilting ministry. “It’s so important to reach out to people — whether it’s your neighbor here or in Joplin, Mo. — when they’re suffering.”

Prayers are vital and they do pray, she said, but making prayer shawls and quilts is a tangible way to show their loving concern.

It was Susan Shaffer, a member of Sacred Heart Parish and the quilting ministry, who suggested sending the gifts to the Joplin parishioners. She even had a plan to get them there.

“Her sister and brother-in-law, Sherron and Jim Beldin of Stigler, Okla., would be traveling through the area on their way home,” Veys told The Catholic Post. “If we would be interested in giving some quilts to her, they would be willing to make a detour and drop them off in Joplin.”

As the group talked someone said, “What about some prayer shawls?” They contacted Cecilia Raischel, who coordinates that group, and she said, “Of course.”

“They said people had nothing,” Raischel recalled. “We thought this would comfort them and push them forward a little bit.”

The Sacred Heart Comforters were able to supply about 20 quilts and a stack of pillowcases for the children, along with quilts donated by a group affiliated with St. Malachy’s in Geneseo. Raischel sent 11 prayer shawls that had been blessed and were in reserve.

“We wanted to donate to a specific parish and we heard that St. Mary’s had been pretty much wiped out,” Veys said, noting that a temporary shelter had been set up for the St. Mary’s parishioners.

“Susan told me that when her sister and brother-in-law took them (to the shelter), the people were very grateful to have them,” Veys said.

The prayer shawl ministry was established almost two years ago. Raischel had been making them with a group at Christ the King in Moline, but was invited to get a similar ministry started at Sacred Heart.

A steady group of four or five women meet for an hour twice a month to knit or crochet the shawls, using their own pattern and whatever yarn is available. Much of the yarn is donated.

They start with prayer and often continue to pray as they work on the prayer shawls, which are 60 or 66 inches long. “It keeps me concentrating on my stitches when I’m praying,” Raischel told The Post.

The prayer shawls go to people in times of happiness as well times of sickness, grief and despair. Before they are given away they are blessed and tagged with a card that says, “This prayer shawl was crafted with prayers for your healing body, mind and spirit. As you wear this shawl may you feel the warm embrace of our Heavenly Father.”

“One woman has said that when she has the prayer shawl on she can feel the prayers that are in them and she feels like the Lord is with her,”
Raischel said. “That’s where the comfort comes from.”

The Sacred Heart Comforters have been meeting for almost a year. Their mission is to reach out to shut-ins and people in nursing homes and shelters, according to Veys.

They meet on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., beginning and ending with prayer. Members help with whatever part of the quilt making process they can.

“We are aware that the quilts are going to people who could use a little comfort, a little warmth, a homey feeling of having something that’s theirs,” Veys said. “Especially children — this is something that goes with them. It’s theirs.”

Whether they go to shelters or people recovering from a tornado in Missouri, these special items do the same thing.

“Those quilts and prayer shawls wrap those people in hope,” Veys said.

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