SASKATOON — Prayers for those involved in health care and caregiving were offered at the annual Compassionate Healers Mass, held Oct. 11 at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Saskatoon.
Bishop Donald Bolen presided at the celebration of the eucharist — one of his final events in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon before his Oct. 14 installation as Archbishop of Regina. The celebration included prayers for those involved in health care, for the sick and suffering, and those who have died. It also included a blessing of all caregivers present at the gathering and the anointing of their hands with sacred oil.
Held on the feast day of Saint John XXIII, the celebration included the Gospel reading proclaimed at Bolen’s priestly ordination Oct. 12, 1991 — the poignant healing encounter between Peter and Jesus after the resurrection, in which Our Lord asks, “Do you love me?” three times, each time directing Peter to demonstrate that love by caring for his flock: “feed my sheep.”
Bolen stressed that it is God first and foremost who offers care and healing to the weak, the sick and the suffering. He pointed to the first reading from Ezekiel, in which God rebukes the bad shepherds of the people of Israel, before declaring, “I myself will shepherd them.”
“The mission of compassionate healing is God’s mission to us. It is God’s mercy unfolding in the depths of our need, the depths of our lives,” said Bolen. “Our mission is to simply do for others what God does for us. Our mission is to be instruments of God’s compassionate healing to a needy and hurting world.”
The suffering dimension of the human experience can be seen in the lives of those struggling with health issues, with bodies that are falling apart, with the spiritual, physical and mental pain that comes with illness, he said. “So many people around us are hurting. The world needs compassionate healers. We all need compassionate healers. We need God’s healing touch.”
With the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada, it is a difficult time for the church to be involved in health care — but never has it been more important, said Bolen.
“We as a church commit ourselves to walk with others, and to walk with others bringing whatever healing we can — but not to abandon them,” he said.
“We work for palliative care because we believe that palliative care is the most deeply human and respectful way to walk with people, to try to respond medically to that suffering, to reduce that suffering as much as possible and to make life as rich and as good as possible.”
He also acknowledged the faithful, compassionate work of those on the front lines of providing health care.
“Tonight is a night when the church has the opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to you who are nurses and doctors and chaplains, to you who are involved in pastoral visiting, who are administrators and board members, who are people who have suffering and struggling people in your lives and in your homes, you who are caregivers and support staff — all of you who in one way or another are involved in the healing ministry of the church, the healing ministry of the Lord. We are so grateful for what you do. We are so grateful that through you, the Lord’s healing ministry continues in our community, in our facilities and in our world.”
At the conclusion of the event, Bolen also thanked the Catholic Health Association of Saskatchewan (CHAS) for organizing the Compassionate Healers Mass. This year, the event was again held at three locations across the province — Prince Albert on Sept. 11, Regina on Sept. 13, and Saskatoon on Oct. 11.
CHAS executive director Sandra Kary described the beginnings of the annual event, which was first called the “White Mass,” before being renamed the Compassionate Healers Mass at the suggestion of the late Archbishop Daniel Bohan.
“This has been a very challenging year for us with the ushering in of euthanasia and the legalization of assisted suicide, which is now part of our society,” said Kary. “Pray for all health care workers as they continue to serve the most vulnerable people, including those contemplating euthanasia and assisted suicide.”
Kary invited all those present to walk with those who are suffering, and to work to allay the fears of those considering euthanasia or assisted suicide. She also invited participants to join CHAS at their annual conference in Moose Jaw Oct. 20 - 21 to explore the theme “Hope Floats,” and how to move forward with providing truly compassionate care.