Symposium highlights Catholic response to families of murder victims

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SAN BERNARDINO—The Diocesan Office of Restorative Justice will hold its first ever Victims Symposium at the Diocesan Pastoral Center on April 10.

 The event will showcase the many ways the Office has expanded its ministry to victims of violent crime, including murder, and their families and loved ones. It takes place during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which sparked the idea to hold such an event, said Office Director Marciano Avila. “We’re usually out attending vigils that week. This year, we thought, ‘let’s have something here.’ ”

 A free all-day event that includes lunch, the Symposium will feature morning and afternoon keynote speeches that both address the difficult prospect of coping with the loss of a loved one to murder. The morning address, “The Journey Toward Healing and the New Normal,” will be given by Sister Terry Maher, CPPS, who will share her experience of coming to terms with losing both her mother and brother to murder. Dr. Marco Elias, a licensed therapist for Catholic Charities and the leader of the Diocesan Transitions Ministry, will give the afternoon keynote, “Turning Trauma into Motivation and Healing.”

 Panel discussions will also be part of the event as representatives of the organizations Families of Murder Victims, Parents of Murdered Children and Option House will lead the morning dialogue. The afternoon panel discussion will include a representative of the Victim Services Bureau of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, who will talk about Victim’s Advocate resources and Camp Good Grief, a place for children who have lost a parent to murder. Also speaking will be Kelvin Ward, who will give an update on the Common Ground for Peace movement, designed to raise awareness and reduce gun violence in the City of San Bernardino.

 The day will also include two powerful testimonials; one from Hector Vargas, who lost his son to murder, and one from Doris Frey, who spent many years in prison related to the murder of her husband.

 The Office of Restorative Justice will also update attendees on different offerings of its ministry to crime victims, including its “Love One Another” prayer services at murder sites in the Diocese, and “The Journey,” a 10-week support group for those who have lost a loved one to murder. Frey will speak of her experience in the Office’s “Bridges” program for those coming out of long-term incarceration.

 “They’d be surprised at how much we are doing,” says Avila.

 But the painful nature of ministry to victims presents a challenge in holding this kind of event, Office leaders admit.

 “Getting people to come to this is difficult,” says Anna Hamilton, Associate Director of Restorative Justice. “For survivors, they’re not in a comfortable place to speak what their emotions are. Others, who don’t have direct experience with losing someone to murder, they don’t understand it.”

 Avila said he is hopeful that people who have lost someone to violence will come to the Symposium and learn about the resources that are available for those who have suffered this kind of trauma. He also hopes direct service providers, such as counselors, as well as priests and Church ministers will attend to better prepare themselves to meet the needs of victims.

 Deacon John Barna will MC the event, which is free of charge and includes lunch.

 To register please visit the Office web site at