When Fernanda Moreira recalls how she began a worldwide apostolate for the dying in her Cincinnati home, she says it was all God’s doing because she never could have spread it across the country from California to Connecticut and to places as far away as the United Kingdom, Nigeria and the Philippines.
God thinks big. Every step of the way, she saw his finger moving her forward, introducing her to people and placing opportunities in her path. It was God at work, she says, because he wanted this done at this time in history when humanity needs it the most.
She tells the story of three sisters-in-law, one who was dying of bone cancer and the other two who prayed at her bedside.
“Just after Thanksgiving in 2003, my sister-in-law Rosalina was admitted to the hospital,” she said. “It didn’t occur to us she would never return home. I went to visit her with my sister-in-law Lourdes, and we asked if she would like to pray with us. Right away, she said yes. We were so glad because for many years we wanted to pray with her, but she rarely would. From that day, we always prayed together during our visits.”
Rosalina died peacefully on Valentine’s Day with the family at her side.
“After her death, I realized how much the dying need our prayers,” Fernanda said. “There are many people all over the world who die unprepared for eternal judgment and in great need of spiritual help.”
The women formed the Apostolate for the Dying “to pray for souls at the vital moment of death, when eternal salvation is at stake.” They later collected their prayers and published a booklet titled, “Holy Hour Devotion for the Dying,” which has gone through numerous printings in different languages.
Fernanda is convinced God brought her to people who would spread the devotion, including Marie Amelia Moura, who over the past seven years has led the Holy Hour at St. Joseph Church in Shelton and Our Lady of Fatima Church in Bridgeport, under the direction of Father Jose Alves.
Father Alves said that from 25 to 30 people regularly attend the service and that prayers in front of the Blessed Sacrament are especially powerful.
“So many people have no one to pray for them at the end of their life, and they need our prayers,” Marie said. “I believe they will remember us and pray for us when our time comes.” She feels that it is important to have the Blessed Sacrament exposed during the Holy Hour.
She recalls a friend from St. Joseph’s who was very sick and went into a coma. “I was praying the Holy Hour for her with her husband at Griffin Hospital in her last few hours, and she squeezed my hand.” Marie knew that even though the woman couldn’t talk, she was conscious of their prayers.
Another friend from Our Lady of Fatima, who always attended the Holy Hour, died suddenly at precisely the time Marie was praying at St. Joseph’s.
“I took it as a sign this powerful prayer can lead you right to heaven,” she said. “Through this Holy Hour, we can help save souls who have no one to pray for them. Prayer brings us close to God and brings the graces that can get us into heaven at the end of life. I thank God for the opportunity to help save souls.”
Father Mariusz Olbrys, parochial vicar at St. Joseph’s, regularly attends the Holy Hour. He said, “All people who are dying need our support. The ones we know and the ones we don’t know. The graces that come from our prayers help them to receive peace from God and pass from this life into the next.”
“We won’t live forever,” he adds. “Eventually, we’ll need prayers too. We’re all connected, even with those who have died. They’ve finished their pilgrimage, and our prayers help them move on. Death is not the end, but the beginning of new life for them where they no longer have to suffer.”
Father Michael Dogali, pastor of St. Joseph’s, pointed to the importance of praying for those who’ve died. A couple he recently married remembered all their deceased family members at the Prayer of the Faithful.
“Everybody was moved to hear those names at the wedding, because those people were also present,” he said. “The living were there, along with aunts and uncles and grandparents who died.”
“The Resurrection is not something from Walt Disney,” he added. “It’s real. There is a heaven, and every sacrifice we make, every prayer we say, benefits ourselves and others. No act of kindness ever goes forgotten.”
Diane Scott, director of faith formation at St. Ann’s Parish in Bridgeport, has attended the Holy Hour for two years. “A priest told me about the group at St. Joseph’s when I was going through a crisis over family members who had walked away from the faith, and I was concerned about their afterlife,” she recalls. “After praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament at the Holy Hour, I was filled with a hope I never before experienced.”
Doug Ungrady, who has attended the Holy Hour since it began, has prayed for relatives who were lapsed Catholics … and now they attend Mass.
“Christ can use our prayers to help other people achieve salvation,” he said. “At the moment of death the most powerful graces are available through his mercy.”
As a prayer in the booklet asks, “Lord Jesus Crucified, have mercy on us and those who will die this day.”
(The Holy Hour for the Dying is held at Our Lady of Fatima in Bridgeport at 12:30 pm the first Thursday and third Thursday of the month in Portuguese, and every Friday at St. Joseph Church at 12:45 pm. For more information about the apostolate, visit apostolateforthedying.org.)