In February 2004 the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter entitled, Catholic Health Ministry in Canada. The purpose of the letter was to address all of the Christian faithful regarding the many profound changes within the health system and the church during the past few decades. The letter acknowledges with deep gratitude the courage and devotion of the nuns who loved and cared for sick, suffering and dying people regardless of color or creed. However, the Bishops note that, “unlike perhaps in the past, caring for the sick can no longer simply be the work of a few dedicated individuals; it must now become more and more the concern and preoccupation of every Christian and the entire Christian community“. As baptized people we are truly alive when we are engaged in the whole ministry of Jesus. While some may have a direct role in one or another of Jesus’ ministries, opting out of this ministry of caring for one another in need is not a legitimate choice. More specifically, most of us are not health care providers, yet all of us must have a concern and preoccupation about the church’s health ministry.
On another level, some of us may say I do not, or need not, know anything about it; I am not a doctor, nurse or other health professional. Others may say, we do not have a Catholic hospital in or near our community. Others may ask, what would I get out of membership in CHAS? Still others may say that the church should not run hospitals; or, there is no difference between surgery and treatment in a Catholic run hospital or a publicly run hospital.
In response to these objections, consider the following valuable reasons for a strong, vibrant Catholic health sector. Catholic health must have a supportive community that legitimizes these values.
- Catholic health differentiates the way we experience care and compassion in our encounters with the health system.
- Catholic heath is motivated by the compassion of Jesus and witnesses to all people on God’s behalf, giving the poor (the sick, suffering and dying) hope regardless of one’s physical condition.
- The charism of the nuns was in taking great risk caring for the poor; now the larger Christian community is called upon to help minister and express partiality for these poor.
- Catholic heath care is totally committed to respect for human life at all times. The Catholic heath identity is its witness to the value of all human life regardless of the weaknesses of the person and regardless of the difficulties encountered while witnessing to human life.
- Catholic health helps everyone to understand the mystery of suffering in the human condition. We open eyes to see the necessary humiliation of Good Friday to experience the glory of Easter Sunday .
- Catholic health gives courage to deepen the human character in unavoidable suffering. Catholic health illuminates the redemptive value of suffering in a culture that strives to avoid it, deny its reality, or respond to it with anger or violence.
- Much of Jesus’ ministry was directed to care and compassion for the poor (again, the sick, suffering and dying). He specifically commanded his followers to do so, and He said that it will be the test question on our judgement day. He will not single out health care providers for the question.