West Bank singles turn to God for spiritual blessings
“All Are Welcome,” the opening song sung at Mass Dec. 14 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Belle Chasse, set the tone for the Westbank Catholic Singles Group that gathered that evening.
Deacon Ray Duplechain, the group’s chaplain, gave a homily reflecting on not giving up on hopes and dreams but to follow the way of the Lord, even with unfulfilled dreams. He used the movie, “Field of Dreams,” and its main character Ray Kinsella to show how everyone has unfulfilled dreams and past regrets in life. Kinsella’s struggle was reflected in his relationship with his father.
“Our unfulfilled dreams do not escape God’s love, attention, compassion or mercy for each one of us,” Deacon Duplechain said. “Fill those unfulfilled holes in our hearts with God’s love and compassion.
“God invites us to build a manger in our heart so he can be with us every day of our lives. ... The Savior is the one in our lives who makes smooth the paths. It is he who fulfills us and brings us home.”
Deacon Duplechain suggested being wise by following in the ways of the Lord through prayer; being present for others – in giving we receive and are filled with God’s love, mercy and compassion; and to practice until we get it right.
West Bank Catholic Singles formed in 2000 after single friends – many recently divorced – began meeting at each other’s homes and lamented how strange it was, especially if they were divorced or widowed, to attend Mass alone.
Debbie Fagnano, a founding member, approached the archdiocese to start a Catholic ministry for single Catholics on the West Bank who chose to be single or who find themselves single due to separation, divorce or being widowed.
“We wanted to provide a venue for kindred spirits to celebrate the Eucharist together,” she said. “It was a dream, and I figured if we did it, they would come,” Fagnano said.
Fagnano said she was hoping for 25 people at the inaugural Mass held in September 2000 at Christ the King Church in Terrytown. Approximately 100 people from 17 West Bank church parishes attended. Before Katrina, the group grew to close to 200 people attending quarterly Masses celebrated at various West Bank churches . A smaller group formed to hold activities in addition to the Masses at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Belle Chasse.
Unlike other Catholic singles groups, Fagnano said the purpose of the group is not mainly social – although a gathering with refreshments follows every Mass, and a wedding of two widows who met at the gatherings has occurred. No dues are collected.
“This is more of a spiritual thing,” Fagnano said. “It’s not necessarily a social thing. We’re not planning on throwing dances.”
With members scattered after Hurricane Katrina, the core group from Christ the King that met monthly to coordinate the Masses disbanded. Eventually the chapter that has formed at Our Lady of Perpetual Help began to meet again monthly. Fagnano landed in Perpetual Help’s church parish after the storm and reunited with old friends.
“People started asking if we could start up again,” she said about the Masses for singles. She spearheaded the group’s return with the Dec. 14 Mass.
Margie Wesner of Gretna attended with the hope of “meeting some new people.”
Shelly Thomas, a daily communicant, found the group by accident when trying to find a Mass on Dec. 14.
Core member Carol Burke returned as a core member of the reformed West Bank Singles. She said it was logical to form a group catering to single Catholics since they knew other single, Catholic people were out there. She said members sought fun activities to do as friends, nothing romantic. She describes West Bank Singles as “friends who love Christ as I do.
“We share a bond – we’re single,” she said. “It’s a common bond and a friendship. It’s Christian. It’s not the secular part of looking for a man. It’s having faith and friendship.”