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Spreading warmth -- prayer shawls from McCandless church

Using only yarn and prayer, people come together at St. Alexis Catholic Church in McCandless to change lives.

"People often wonder what good they can do to help the world," Christine Gates of Ross said. "We make prayer shawls. We have found that you can help someone feel cared about with simple yarn. The kindness felt by the recipient has a long-lasting ripple effect."

For the past three years, St. Alexis has hosted a Prayer Shawl Ministry. The group meets at 10 a.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at the church.

Prayer shawls are made by crafters such as those at St. Alexis for people who are sick or dealing with tragedy in their lives. The meetings average eight to 10 participants, and the group always is ready to welcome more.

"They (the shawls) are meant as a comfort to people who are sick or grieving," Donna Gottschalk of Adams Township in Butler County, said. "When they receive them, they know that someone is thinking of them."

Gottschalk said the members of the group pray as they make the shawls. They do not necessarily know who will receive them, but they focus on positive things while they knit or crochet.

"We meet for about an hour," Gottschalk said. "We pray, talk and knit."

Gottschalk said everybody in the group makes different kinds of shawls. Some have stripes, some are multicolored, and some are all one color. Gates said the group tries not to count how many shawls it makes, but she estimates it has given away more than 600.

"My favorite part of making them is the letters we get back from the people who receive them," Gottschalk said. "Nurses have told us there are women who get the shawls who are sick and have no family. They sit and cry when they get the shawls because it lets them know that someone is thinking about them and praying for them."

Gates said the sudden loss of her daughter's young friend to cancer inspired her to make her first shawl.

"When you do not know what to say or if you know there are no words that will make the situation less painful, making a prayer shawl can help," Gates said. "Somehow, it can touch them so deeply. It inspires us to keep going."

Gates said the shawls have been distributed at Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland, Wexford House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Wexford and at other places throughout the region.

"We've heard so many beautiful stories. We give them to people who are not religious, too," Gates said. "And they find them comforting, too. It really is about someone acknowledging and appreciating the pain that they are going through."

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