SASKATOON — The profound impact of walking with those who are sick, dying, elderly or isolated was celebrated at a recent Pastoral Care Appreciation for volunteers who serve at hospitals, care homes and in parish communities in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
Sponsored by the diocese’s Hospital Chaplaincy office and the Knights of Columbus, the appreciation evening began with prayer at the Cathedral of the Holy Family, followed by a reception in Bishop Albert LeGatt Hall.
Hospital chaplain Rev. Rhéal Bussière led the prayer service April 21, with music ministry provided by Garth Horn.
Caring for the weak and the frail in homes, in long-term care facilities and in hospitals is a wonderful gift, Bussière reminded volunteers gathered for the annual event.
He reflected on the Gospel passage John 5:2-9, about Jesus’ healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda. With no one to help him into the healing waters, the man had suffered for years, Bussière said.
“The people we offer care to in our parishes, in their homes, in long-term care, in the hospitals, often hope for healing and want to be well again. Some know that will happen with good medical attention. Some are aware they will slowly but surely deteriorate, and yet wish it could be otherwise. And some simply have no idea about the future.” Even when a physical cure is not possible, through the grace of God, pastoral care brings about many kinds of healing, said Bussière.
“We offer our time, we listen without judgment. We listen sometimes to their fears and sometimes their anger,” said Bussière. “But we also listen to their hopes. We share what brings them comfort and happiness even now. . . . We offer prayer to them, sometimes we offer communion, sometimes we offer anointing. We do it with a confidence that it brings the sick and the homebound comfort. We do it with the confidence that it brings support to residents of long-term care, even those who don’t remember who we actually are — that person who comes around now and then to spend some time with them. This is meaningful and it is healing.”
That comforting presence reflects the kind of ministry that Jesus himself provided: “it was the greater part of what he did for that man by the pool who had been hoping for healing for so long.”
In the program that followed, Céline Hudon, diocesan co-ordinator of hospital chaplaincy, and Lois McKay of the Catholic Pastoral Centre welcomed volunteers.
Guest speaker Bishop Donald Bolen expressed appreciation to all those providing pastoral care in a range of settings across the diocese. Bolen shared stories of his own experiences walking with the dying and those struggling with chronic illness.
“Visiting the sick and the dying is hard work. It is hard spiritual work and it takes all of us, it takes our whole selves, our whole life experience and our own grappling with pain and suffering to be present to others in their suffering, and it takes a certain maturity and patience not to try and say easy platitudes that try to make it all seem alright,” he said.
“Your presence is a sign of encouragement, and a sign of hope and a sign of joy,” Bolen told volunteers. “It is a sign of accompaniment by God’s people that speaks very deeply. It often brings a consolation that may be even deeper than that: the consolation of the sacrament that you may bring with you: to celebrate, to bring communion, the gift of Christ’s presence.”
Connecting suffering to the Paschal Mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Christ can provide hope, meaning and comfort to those who are suffering, and to those who walk with them, said Bolen.
He quoted the words of Pope Francis to those caring for the sick and suffering: “One can only approach a sickness in a spirit of faith. We can well approach a sick man, woman, boy or girl only if we look at him who took upon himself all our sicknesses, if we make a habit of looking at the Crucified Christ. . . . To you, sick, I say if you cannot understand the Lord, I ask the Lord to make you understand in your heart that you are the flesh of Christ, that you are ‘Christ crucified’ among us, that you are the brothers, the sisters, who are very close to Christ.”
Bolen expressed profound gratitude to volunteers for serving Christ in the sick, the suffering, the dying and the isolated. “The work you are doing is not something peripheral to the life of the church. It’s not something peripheral to our faith, but it’s plugged into the centre,” said Bolen. “Thank you for being there on behalf of the church, on behalf of the community, on behalf of the Lord.”