Eye doctor’s vision sharpened helping others

Julie Filby

God blessed Highlands Ranch ophthalmologist Jim Conahan and his wife Molly with many miracles through their vision-restoring surgery clinic in Ixtapa, Mexico—once Conahan said ‘yes’ to God’s plan.

The couple along with their three children established the ministry, the Mission of Healing Eyes, in 2007 to serve the area’s impoverished blind.

“It’s immediate and it’s amazing, and you can imagine the incredible joy on both sides,” he said of the patients who come for healing, as well as the doctors and staff who provide it.

The joy is crystal clear once Conahan, a parishioner of St. Frances Cabrini in Littleton, removes blinding cataracts from patients’ eyes and replaces them with implants. When vision returns the next day, many see for the first time in years, such as “Juanito.”

“Juanito had cataracts in each eye and literally couldn’t see two feet in front of him,” Conahan said of the 47-year-old who had been blind for 10 years. Therefore Juanito had never seen his 6-year-old daughter Angelina, who was with him at the clinic.

“When Brian (my son) took his patch off, he didn’t look at Brian, he didn’t look at me; he looked over at his daughter and just whispered: ‘Muy bonita Angelina.’

“Meaning you’re just so beautiful,” he continued, “because he had never seen her.”

Conahan said with each mission trip, now 17, there is always one story like that.

“This (ministry) is really a group of dedicated volunteers whose spiritual inspirer is Mother Teresa,” he said, indicating it’s more than humanitarian work. “We use her model: that we would like to see the face of Jesus in these blinded poor.”

A core group of 12-15 volunteers travel to the clinic twice a year, every October and May. The next trip is scheduled for May 17. In seven years, they have seen some 7,000 patients, performed more than 1,700 cataract surgeries, and distributed more than 12,000 pairs of glasses.

“The amazing thing is the story behind it,” Conahan said. “This has nothing to do with Jim Conahan and everything to do with turning your ‘yes’ over to God and letting him navigate it.”

The seed was planted in March 2006 when the family: Jim, Molly and children: Megan, Matt and Brian were vacationing in Zihuantanejo, Mexico. Conahan had previously done cataract surgeries on the east side of Mexico with a group from Boulder County Hospital, and because his children had accompanied him on the trips, they were aware of cataract symptoms.

“I was sitting on the beach enjoying myself when Megan (then 14) came up and said: ‘We need to come down here and start seeing patients … everyone has cataracts, you can tell.’”

With good intentions, but not much optimism, he told his daughter they could look into it—knowing that obtaining government permission, finding space and purchasing supplies were huge undertakings.

“I don’t want to squelch your enthusiasm but it could take years,” he told Megan.

Piece after piece of the puzzle continued to fall into place until Conahan realized God was hitting him “over the head with a two-by-four”: permission was fast-tracked, clinic space was offered, supplies were sold to him at a significant discount, and medical staff volunteered to go. The following October they returned to Mexico—each hauling 50 pounds of supplies—and established the clinic.

“When we arrived there were 150 people waiting to be seen,” he said. “And it stayed that way consistently for the next four days.”

Word of their healing ministry has continued to grow through the years, and the Conahans and their team continue to respond.

“This is God’s plan,” he said. “In my humility what I had to realize is that it was really about my arrogance in the beginning. It was about me saying ‘yes’ to God and he just took care of the rest.”

For more information, visit www.healingeyes.webs.com.

Donate glasses
During Lent, St. Frances Cabrini Parish at 6673 W. Chatfield Ave. in Littleton will collect prescription and reading glasses and sunglasses for the Ministry of Healing Eyes in a basket outside the gathering space. To make a monetary donation, call the parish at 303-979-7688 or visit www.healingeyes.webs.com.

COMING UP: Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

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Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

Initiatives include independent investigation and independent reparations program

Mark Haas

With a desire to “shine the bright light of transparency” on the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has announced that the three Colorado dioceses have voluntarily partnered with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children.

In a joint news conference on February 19 at the attorney general’s office, it was also announced that the three dioceses will voluntarily fund an independent reparations program for survivors of such abuse.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” said Archbishop Aquila. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Discussions for these two initiatives began last year with former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and then finalized recently with Weiser. Both Coffman and Weiser praised the dioceses’ willingness to address this issue.

“It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Coffman added: “Childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution or to the Catholic Church. The spotlight is on the Catholic Church, but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on what has happened.

“[The dioceses] demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”

The independent file review will be handled by Robert Toyer, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. His final report is expected to be released in the fall of 2019 and will include a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, along with a review of the dioceses’ handling of the allegations. The report will also include an evaluation of the dioceses’ current policies and procedures, something that was not included in other states’ reviews, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

“We in Colorado have found our own way in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report,” said Weiser. “We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, speaks during a press conference announcing a comprehensive joint agreement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on February 19, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church,” said Weiser.

Since 1991, the Archdiocese of Denver has had a policy of mandatory reporting of all allegations to local authorities. The procedures were further strengthened by the 2002 Dallas Charter to include comprehensive background checks, zero-tolerance policies, safe environment training, and training for children as well.

“This independent file review presents an opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of the Church in Colorado’s historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” said Archbishop Aquila.  “We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.”

We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.”

The independent reparations program will be run by two nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and make financial awards to victims who elect to participate. The victims are free to accept or reject the award, but the Colorado dioceses are bound by what the administrators decide.

The program will have oversight provided by an independent committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. More details will be announced in the coming months, and the program will officially open closer to the release of the final report.

This is similar to a program instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila said it is important for local Catholics to know the program will be funded by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals, or Catholic Charities.

“With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families,” Archbishop Aquila said.

And acknowledging how painful this has been for everyone in the Church, Archbishop Aquila said he hopes this is step towards restoring confidence among the faithful.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” said Archbishop Aquila. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, so that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”

For a copy of the full agreement and a detailed FAQ, visit archden.org/promise.