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Roman Catholic Parish Anoints AIDS Victims

July 26, 1987

CHICAGO (AP) _ About 200 people attended an anointing service for victims of AIDS and other severe illnesses Saturday night, joining in a prayer that the sick would be made well.

The Rev. Thomas Healy, pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, led the hour-long service of the Roman Catholic sacrament of the sick, the first in a series to be offered by the Chicago archdiocese.

About 60 people came forward to be anointed by Healy and four other priests, who put their hands on the worshipers’ heads and anointed their foreheads with oil.

Healy then led the entire group in a prayer to ″relieve the pain of our brothers and sisters and restore them to full health.″

″It was a very private service, a very special service. I thought it was handled very well,″ said one of the worshipers, who identified himself only as a Catholic.

The Chicago archdiocese plans to offer the anointing service every three months, rotating among Mount Carmel and four other North Side Catholic parishes, Healy said. The sacrament was formerly called extreme unction or last rites.

Healy said the services have nothing to do with the Catholic church’s position that homosexuality is a sin and were not likely to affect that position.

″These people are our parishioners and any concern about them as AIDS patients is thus our concern,″ the priest said. ″Their suffering is our suffering.

″The purpose of the service is a healing of emotional wounds, spiritual wounds caused by severe illness so that these people can meet their physical problems with grace,″ Healy said.

Most of the victims of acquired immune deficiency syndrome in the United States are homosexual men.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, head of the archdiocese, issued a statement earlier this month pledging strong support for parishes trying to minister to those affected by AIDS.

Bernardin had provoked the anger of many homosexual groups last year when he publicly opposed a proposed homosexual-rights ordinance in the Chicago City Council.

Following Bernardin’s statement, Jim Bussen, national president of Dignity, an organization of homosexual Catholics, said his group was pleased the parishes were taking a lead in ministering to AIDS victims.

Homosexuals make up 5 to 10 percent of the parishioners at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which is located in a neighborhood with a large homosexual population, Healy said. He said he knew of 30 to 40 parishioners afflicted with AIDS.

The church seats about 700 people, and several pews had been pushed aside for wheelchairs and other apparatus required by those unable to sit up, he said. As it turned out, there was no one in wheelchairs in attendance, but there were a few elderly people on crutches.

The sacrament, formerly administered only individually to people very near death, involves prayers and the pouring of oil on the victim’s forehead.

Since the early 1960s, many parishes have held services to anoint groups of sick or aging people with holy oil.

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