Pastoral Care – Hospital Treatment for the Spirit
A hospital stay can cause fear and anxiety even in the best of circumstances, for the patient and the person’s family. Every hospital whether Catholic or otherwise has a Pastoral Care department, sometimes known as Spiritual Care. Members are either lay chaplains, or clergy who are certified to be hospital chaplains. Formal training is required in psychology, counseling, theology, and national certification credentials before a chaplain can serve in a hospital. Training is necessary, because patients of all faiths are found at Catholic hospitals and chaplains must know how to minister to people of different creeds.
Even with extensive training, Fr. Francois says his main duty is simply to minister to patients, families, and sometimes staff members, to meet their spiritual and emotional needs. On a typical day at St. Catherine’s, he meets with each Catholic patient, and lets staff members know he is available for anyone who wishes a visit. His day starts early; he makes his rounds, says Mass at noon, and leaves the hospital around 2pm, but as he is on 24 hour call, he will drive there in the middle of the night if necessary. Fr. Francois is there to restore faith and encouragement, to listen, to lend a sympathetic ear, or help with questions of faith. And when necessary, to share grief and ease suffering.
And there are joyous visits as well – the birth of babies, successful recovery from surgery or illness, leaving to go home to recover. Often he relies on the staff to notice if someone is anxious, depressed, alone, or needs to talk privately. They then notify him or the Pastoral care office and arrange a visit. He is called to be a presence, one of healing, support, and strength, even borrowed strength.
He says that often people first think of the Sacraments – Holy Communion, Reconciliation, or Anointing of the Sick. But he is there mostly to offer peace and to listen to their fears, concerns, or relieve their mind about whatever is bothering them. Stress can affect recovery, and relieving that stress through talking, prayer, and sacraments can contribute to a patient’s wellbeing. “Mostly I am there to comfort, and to offer support when things are not going their way,” he says. And while visits are occasional, his prayers are constant.
Greenlawn, NY 11740