BILLINGS — Faith leaders gathered in the St. Vincent Healthcare chapel Tuesday and held a Festival of Lights Prayer Service to honor 177 lives lost at the hospital to COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic.
Following the service, which was broadcast live online for free, St. Vincent staff placed 177 white flags on the lawn near the hospital's front entrance, each flag representing someone lost to COVID-19 at St. V's.
“We honored in particular our Native American people today because so many of them have been lost to this virus in particular. It was very damaging to our Native American brothers and sisters and we honored them in particular today because of that great loss," said Karen Brannon, spiritual care manager at St. Vincent.
During the service, three candles were lit with a blessing from Bishop Michael Warfel of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings.
The first candle represented the lives lost at St. Vincent. The second represented people across the state who have passed away from COVID-19. The third candle honored the Native American lives lost due to the virus.
“Let the blessing that they receive in the sign of the Holy Cross be effectual that wherever they are lighted or placed, the princes of darkness may depart in trembling from all of those places and flee in fear, along with all their legions and ever more dare to disturb or molest those who serve you. The almighty God, who live and reign forever and ever, amen," Warfel said.
William (Bill) Big Day with the Crow Tribe performed a smudging ceremony following the lighting of the candles. He burned herbs in a dish and wafted their smoke over those in attendance using a bundle of feathers while offering a prayer in the Apsáalooke language.
Deacon Joseph Kristufek of Lame Deer on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation sang the Journey Song to honor the Native American lives lost to COVID-19.
Kristufek shared the Biblical story of Simeon from the Gospel of Luke. In the story, Simeon was visited at his temple by Mary, Joseph who were wanting to bless the 40-day-old infant Jesus "according to the custom of the law."
The child's mother and father were amazed at what was said about him, and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 'Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that their thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed," Kristufek said.
Doug Shepherd, interim regional director of mission integration at St. V's, also spoke of the story of Simeon and the symbol of light shared in the candles. Shepherd said no matter what uncertainty, regret, fatigue or sickness people have, they should work toward the light and not darkness.
"Whatever cross you or I might be carrying today, we are called to let the light in, to take up the child and to say with Simeon, ‘at last, a light of revelation for all peoples.’ The glory of God’s love for all peoples. And like Simeon recalled not to curse the darkness, but to light a candle to be enlightened and to bring the light of this love to all peoples in all communities, especially those who are poor and vulnerable even in the midst of our own poverty," Shepherd said.
The Festival of Lights Prayer Service can be viewed in its entirety on St. Vincent's Facebook page by clicking here.