Saturday, March 27, 2004


The scene was chaotic at Ground Zero as the American Red Cross worked to help people cope with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Healing Physical and
Spiritual Wounds

The American Red Cross helps
isle clergy counsel victims
of mass tragedies

The 1999 tragedies of the Xerox shootings and Sacred Falls rockslide were wake-up calls for American Red Cross officials in Hawaii, showing them the importance of giving victims spiritual counseling as well as physical comfort.

When Glenn R. Lockwood, director of Disaster Services, and Ken Lee, coordinator of Disaster Mental Health, went to New York after 9/11, it reinforced the idea that clergy needed special training to help victims of mass tragedies.

The agency's Hawaii chapter in January started offering free one-day courses for clergy. The next Pacific Health Ministry will be Thursday at the Pohai Nani Good Samaritan Retirement Community in Kaneohe.

Hawaii is leading the nation in trying to train clergy, Lockwood said. So far 41 have been certified, on Oahu, Maui and Kauai.

A prayer station was just one of the ways the American Red Cross worked in New York to offer people the spiritual support they needed after 9/11.

Lee said 42,000 people in New York, including firemen and police, sought help in one week after the 9/11 attacks; 5,000 of them asked for spiritual help, he said.

"People draw from their faith when they're overwhelmed and can't cope. They look for a source greater than they are," Lee said.

Lutheran minister John H. Moody, president of Pacific Health, said that of the 42,000 people, 50 percent of them had religious affiliations, according to a Red Cross study.

During times of crisis, Moody said, religion is "the first place people go. There is a loss of a sense of meaning or purpose of life. ... They ask, 'Why me? Why now? Why has God allowed this?'"

Lee said the Red Cross' Spiritual Care Workshop teaches clergy, who must provide credentials to attend the workshops, not only what to say but what not to say.

For instance, he said, they shouldn't say that someone was "too young to die," or "You're young. You can always marry/have more children," or "Life must go on. You'll feel better before you know it."

Ken Lee, coordinator of Disaster Mental Health for the American Red Cross in Hawaii, went to Ground Zero to counsel victims of the 9/11 attacks.

At the Sacred Falls disaster, in which eight people died and 32 were hurt by a rockslide on Mother's Day, a well-meaning couple went to injured victims, "trying to convert then to their church and even demanded that someone pray with them," he said. A minister who showed up also pressured victims to pray, which caused some families more distress. Eventually, he was asked to leave, Lee added.

Prayer should only occur if victims request it, and it still should be generic if you don't know their religious backgrounds, he said.

The workshop advises clergy to remain theologically "neutral," because "most people don't expect answers, and we don't know, either. ... Everyone finds their own answers eventually," Lee said.

Lockwood said 9/11 drew clergy from thousands of miles away who wanted to help, but when they got there, he said, "the local authorities asked, 'Who are you with? Who gave you the authority to go into Ground Zero?'"

There was no system in place to coordinate their ministry, so the Red Cross was put in charge, he said.

Clergy interested in the next workshop should call 591-6556 or e-mail


Red Cross course helps
pastor refocus her

The Rev. Jan Youth, an associate pastor with the Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin, "felt so helpless" when victims of the Sacred Falls rockslide arrived at Kuakini Medical Center, where she volunteered in 1999.

Then the American Red Cross sent workers to help ministers, who were not trained in dealing with disasters, she said.

"I thought, this is excellent," Youth said.

The notion of offering spiritual support along with medical help prompted her to sign up for the Red Cross' first Hawaii course to train clergymen in counseling disaster victims.

Now, if she had to minister to a victim going through a major crisis, "I probably wouldn't be so focused on myself -- the horror and shock of being in a chaotic situation -- but on what I could do to serve this person at this moment. Maybe he just needs me to listen, or hold his hand, or just say, 'Go ahead and cry.'

"I would allow them to go through their emotions, and express them. It's not my arena to show how I feel, but to be able to receive, be truly present to a person. What I mean by 'truly present' is show them they are the only thing that matters; to be totally attentive to their thoughts, feelings and to their dignity," Youth said.

The course thoroughly prepared the ministers, she said.

"It allowed us to realize the capacity we have for reaching out and caring about other people. It gave us the confidence to care for other people," Youth said.

She said other clergy who attended the course did not have a problem with being taught to not try converting victims to their particular faith.

"Because of our faith, we can serve others no matter what our faith. ... We can be a responsive team, not for people and their religion, but for people and their needs," she said.

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