Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 6, 2006
World Day of the Sick
The permanent council of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter on Catholic health ministry Feb. 11, 2005. To mark this year's World Day of the Sick, Steve Hill, director of mission for the Alberta Catholic Health Corp., has prepared this summary of the bishops' letter.
IntroductionOn Feb. 11, 2005, the permanent council of the Canadian Catholic Bishops published a pastoral letter entitled, Let Us Go Forward in Hope. The bishops recall with deep gratitude the many women and men, especially the religious sisters, whose pioneering generosity marked the beginning of Catholic health care in Canada.
Traditionally, Catholics have set aside Feb. 11 to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Mary, the Mother of God, appeared to a young peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 near a village in southern France.
Mary invited Bernadette to drink the water flowing in the grotto. As people experienced the remarkable healing power of the water, Lourdes became a famous shrine, attracting pilgrims from around the world.
In 1992, Pope John Paul II also designated Feb. 11 as World Day of the Sick. This provided a special occasion for those who are ill to reflect on the compassionate presence of God in the midst of human suffering.
For Catholic health care organizations and for Catholics involved in health care work, the World Day of the Sick also affirmed the special role they play in continuing the healing mission of Jesus today.
On the occasion of the first anniversary of CCCB pastoral letter, we are printing in summary form the bishops' invitation to all Christians to be the good Samaritans of today who make time to assist those who are suffering.
Providing compassionate care for the sick is not just the responsibility of women religious, clergy, and health care professionals. Compassionate care is essential to the vocation of every Christian.
A Powerful Legacy of Caring
From Canada's early history, many women and men have devoted their entire lives to caring for the sick. They built up and left a rich legacy of Catholic health ministry rooted in Gospel values.
In the past, many communities of religious sisters took leadership in providing compassionate care for the sick. Today, as we benefit from the fruit of their courage and dedication and as those same communities can no longer provide the personnel they once did, Catholic health ministry must now become the concern of all Christians.
The mission of caring for the sick is essential to the life of every Christian and a just society. Pope John Paul II reminded us that anyone who stops to help those who are suffering is living the Gospel message of the Good Samaritan. Our Christian vocation calls us to be compassionate people who care for those who are suffering.
Essential Features of the Healing Ministry of the Church
Jesus the 'Divine Healer'
The Catholic healing ministry is rooted in and modeled after the person of Jesus and his compassionate healing ministry. We, the people of God, walk in the footsteps of Jesus, the divine healer, who came so that we "may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
Healing the whole person
The healing ministry of the Church is comprehensive in scope and is directed to the health, well-being and liberation of the whole person - physical, spiritual, mental, emotional and social.
Signs of God's Reign
Whenever Jesus cured the sick, it was always a tangible sign that the reign of God is present in the midst of human suffering. The healing ministry is an expression of God's loving and active presence in the world today.
The mystery of suffering
While pain and suffering are to be relieved at all cost, the healing ministry keeps us close to the deep mystery of suffering. In the words of Pope John Paul, "Each person in his or her suffering can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ."
Praying for those who are sick or suffering
Scripture says, "When you are ill, delay not, but pray to God, who will heal you." While the relationship between prayer and healing remains a mystery, prayer is a way of putting our ultimate hope in the Lord. Prayer for the sick is at the heart of the vocation of every Christian.
Respect for human life and dignity
An essential feature of the healing ministry is an uncompromising respect for human life and dignity. From conception to natural death, human life is a gift to be treasured. In a profound sense, those engaged in the ministry of health and healing are called ministers of life. This service requires fidelity to the Gospel and the moral teachings of the Church.
Therefore, not all that is technologically possible is morally acceptable. Today, when there is a strong temptation to treat life as a commodity, the healing ministry upholds a deep reverence for the dignity of each person.
Health care justice
The Church's healing ministry goes beyond the health of individuals and extends to the physical and social environment in which people live and work. A basic moral test of any society is how the weak and poor are treated. Every Christian is called to advocate for justice and to help change unjust social structures that cause undue suffering to others.
Global solidarity and communion
We are called to compassionate generosity whenever people around the world suffer from a natural disaster or pandemic infection. Charity begins at home but must not stop there. Without a global solidarity with those who are suffering, Catholic health ministry will be found wanting.
New Challenges for Catholic Health Care
Major changes have deeply affected the future of Catholic health care. There are many challenges including leadership formation, Catholic identity, sustainability and financial constraints. Catholic professional caregivers can and must make a difference. Their voice, presence and advocacy, and their faith-driven leadership are essential to ensure the distinct mission of the Church is maintained.
The increasing role of the laity
Lay leadership in Catholic health care must be recruited, fostered, strengthened and empowered in order to continue the rich legacy we have received. Faith-based leadership programs are vital.
A faith-driven mission
Catholic health care is always rooted in the healing ministry and compassion of Jesus. Only when this faith conviction is deeply lived and reflected upon will the identity and mission of Catholic health care truly make a difference.
In close partnership with others
Catholic health care does not act in isolation. Catholics share common values with other faith-based groups, and in partnerships with them, we can make positive contributions to the local, regional, provincial and national levels of the health care system.
Caregivers in Catholic health ministry are not content to simply say nice words. They keep their word by effectively caring for the sick and the poor. Their credibility stems from their dedication.
(The entire pastoral letter is available at the Catholic Health Association of Canada website: www.chac.ca.)
(Steve Hill leads discussions, workshops and retreats based on the CCCB pastoral letter.)
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