Block Blessing

Originally published by Celebrate! Magazine, January 2010
– PDF version –

Icon of Christ the Healer

Last summer our parish community welcomed Archbishop John Vlazny of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon to bless and dedicate our new icon. The icon of Christ the Healer was written for our parish community that serves people living in poverty in Old Town in Portland. The writer of the icon, Rev. Jon Buffington, incorporated images unique to Portland so that many members of our community could better relate to and pray with the healing Christ offers to every person.

Christ touches a crippled man wearing a backpack sitting in front of the Burnside Bridge. This sacred gesture calms many of our people who sleep under that same bridge. Christ casts out seven demons from Mary Magdalene who holds a jar of perfumed oil. Many of our people suffering from mental health issues take refuge in her beautiful, serene appearance. Many people suffering chronic illness also come weekly to the chapel to be anointed for such unrelenting anguish. A series of roses under Christ’s feet calls to mind the City of Roses, a trademark name for Portland. That same image can be found in our Cathedral just a mile from our parish community.

After the reception of Eucharist, the Archbishop blessed the artist, and called everyone into a silent moment of heartfelt compassion for our parishioners and neighbors who live in dire poverty. The central piece of the dedication was a sung litany which washed over the assembly rousing deep prayer and passion for many people in the assembly.

I offer now this Litany of Blessing so that every community may learn in any time of year to enter more deeply into the healing message of Christ Jesus. This blessing prayer spoke to the particular needs of our parish community. Other parish communities may name their own poverty and suffering in addictions, elder abuse, divorce, or rural unemployment. Every parish community must be truthful and name their experiences in real, honest and authentic prayer.

The assembly responded in song, “Heal us, O God” to each chanted line of the litany. I felt the emotional tug of each statement settling into the hearts of the people. Each line seemed to go deeper into the truth of how we experience life every day in our parish. The bold statements opened our eyes to reality and profound trust in God. I felt a sacred hush under the chant. The prayer touched tender places of compassion and faith for all of us. We seemed humbled by our heartache and even more so by taking the risk of opening our lives to God. We listened, prayed and received the words sincerely in our hearts as we cried out in response.

We lift up our prayer in the healing touch of Christ….
We lift up our community in the healing touch of Christ…

Protect us when we cling to revenge and violence………..
Transform us when hatred overtakes our actions…….
Teach us when we jump to false conclusions…………….

Lead us when we are afraid to follow……..
Inspire us when we fear our own talents…..
Sustain us when we turn from your mercy……

Unite us when we would rather go our separate ways…..
Clarify our thoughts when our thinking becomes destructive….
Bond us together when prejudice tears us apart…..

Create life in our culture of death and destruction…….
Penetrate our stubbornness when self-hatred makes a home in us….
Discover new potential in us when we grasp power and authority…….

Soothe our hearts when illness claims our bodies…..
Rest in us when anxiety penetrates our souls……
Cleanse our consciences when sin overtakes us….

Refresh our hope when we are absorbed in doubt and guilt ….
Wash our feet when we stumble and walk away from love….
Believe is us when we no longer trust in your love….

Forgive us when we do not serve our neighbors….
Provide for us when we loose our employment…
Shelter us when become homeless…..

Recover our lives when addiction and compulsion overpowers us….
Touch us when we cannot bear our pain…..
Cry for us when we grieve those we love…

Weep for us when sorrow blankets our hearts and futures…
Anoint us when our bodies are too weak to pray….
Live in us when we are dead to ourselves….

We lift up our prayer in the healing touch of Christ….
We lift up our community in the healing touch of Christ….

After the litany, the Archbishop prayed the words of blessing for the community and the icon itself. He then sprinkled the icon and the assembly with blessed water. Archbishop Vlazny knelt lovingly on the concrete floor and dipping his thumb into the Oil of the Sick, anointed the four corners of the icon. His humble posture created in me deep concern for all the people we serve and longing for our reliance on God alone.

After the final blessing and dismissal of the Mass, we carried the icon immediately to the outside of our chapel. The entire assembly gathered on the corner of 6th Street and Burnside for the procession around our block to offer Christ to the four winds, for the needs of the entire world. This moment really captured my imagination and the awareness of our assembly. Taking this healing message literally to our neighborhood certainly was a new experience for many visitors and parishioners. Even though we pray at sites of murders as a community and even feed people outside, this was a special way of bringing the message of the Eucharist to a waiting neighborhood in need of love and tenderness.

We huddled silently on the first corner. When people gathered we sang boldly the next texts of the litany. After pausing to allow the prayer to sink into our hearts we then processed along the sidewalk to the next corner and continued the same process on each corner. We sang our truths, anguish and reliance on Christ in the midst of passersby, people pushing their belongings in shopping carts and strangers staring at the large group of us. A few patrons of the local gay bar thought we were condemning gay and lesbian people and drug dealers and several parishioners assured them we were praying for love.

We stand in our streets and offer Christ to the south…..
We pray for immigrants and refugees……
We pray for all people in third-world countries……..

We cry out for the needs of the prisoner, the veteran……
We carry on our shoulders the weight of unemployment….
We ask you to guide our homeless youth and pregnant teenagers….

We carry the cross for people who line up daily for our hospitality center…
We bring Christ to people who line up here for Brother Andre Café…..
We ask you to heal the people who do not trust this community….

We stand in our streets and offer Christ to the east…
We pray for the end of war…
We pray for reconciliation among all faiths and religions…..

We ask healing among agencies serving people experiencing poverty…
We ask healing for the elderly, the crippled and bedridden….
We lift up drug-dealers and pimps who roam our streets…..

We carry the cross to those who cannot help themselves…
We bring Christ to those who feel judged by our faith community….
We ask you to heal the divisions within our neighborhood….

We stand in our streets and offer Christ to the north……
We remember Brother Andre and the people of Canada….
We pray for our Holy Cross institutions of learning…….

We pray for people struggling with sexual identity….
We pray for adequate housing and employment….
We pray for the safety of all women in Old Town….

We pray for reconciliation among neighbors housing the poor….
We pray for all businesses in Old Town……
We long for the unity of believers and the consolation of the oppressed

We stand in our streets and offer Christ to the west….
We pray for navigators of the sea, travelers and sojourners…
We pray for our dead who have traveled to the eternal shore….

We pray for all people suffering mental illness…..
We pray for people living in the sunsets of depression and loneliness.
We pray for all the grieving and lost…..

We pray for patience for a new day of love and concern for people…
We pray for all our neighbors, benefactors and believers….
We wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ Jesus…….

We offered back to God the healing that comes from God. We gathered as believers who know all too well the pain of life and the unanswered questions of suffering. We took our pain and our faith to the streets. We extended the healing of the Eucharist to the neighborhood and revealed our concerns in public. We blessed the block because we are confident the suffering does not have the last word among us.

After we prayed circling the block, we processed back into the chapel. The artist and some helping hands hung the icon above our Tabernacle. Everyone present burst into applause with sheer emotional release.

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