We know that Don Bosco dedicated most of his life to the education of the children and young people. However, on some occasions he also spent his time visiting the sick and those at the end of life.
Working in the Mission “ad gentes,” I spent years surrounded by poor children and youth in the Cambodian mission. Nowadays, I try to be sign of God’s love for those who are sick, elderly, and lonely here in Australia.
Once a week as a Spiritual Care Volunteer at Monash Health Dandenong Hospital I visit Catholic patients. I started at first as a Ward Ambassador, welcoming the patients at the hospital entrance and helping them to find their way around the numerous corridors on different floors of the building. I also went around the ward and talked to people who wanted some company.
A hospital ward can be extremely daunting for newcomers.
I was then introduced to my new mission as a Spiritual Care volunteer: with a particular role to visit the Catholic patients and try to provide for some of their spiritual needs. Every time I enter a new room, I enter with a kind of reverence, knowing that I need to “take off my shoes” as I am entering “holy ground”. The first thing I usually tell people in the wards is that the Church is praying for them and that they are not forgotten.
This simple sentence moves them often to tears. People in hospital go through tough times of pain, fear, loneliness, and uncertainty. A friendly word of greeting and a nice smile bring healing and strength too. If the patient feels like talking, I’m there to listen, like a simple clay jar which serves for holding and protecting.
I feel very blessed hearing so many different life stories that people share with me. Their stories stay in my heart and help me to pray for them.
When I can, I try to find something nice to tell the person sitting up in bed, often in their over-sized hospital pyjamas. I enjoy telling those who have their bed next to the windows from which they can see people entering the hospital, “Do you know that you can actually say that you are the first person who sees these patients in hospital?” This remark puts a smile on their faces and maybe for the first time helps them think of it as a precious mission that they can do right there from their beds - “to bless that person and to pray for them”.
Not all healing comes from medication and surgery! God is the most powerful healer of all. At appropriate times I present to the Catholic patients the possibility to receive the sacrament of Anointing of the sick, which is a sacrament for the living, not for the dead!
Once I explain to the patients that the Anointing will bring them peace, healing of the heart and maybe even healing of the body, and most of all the forgiveness of sins, many of them express the desire of the priest’s visit, which is then arranged by the hospital staff member who is responsible for the spiritual care of all the patients in the hospital.
I love my Tuesday mornings at the Hospital. They enrich me deeply and make my days more meaningful.
Some months ago, I also started a new mission, the so called JudeCare, among the people of St Jude parish in Scoresby. We have a group of committed parishioners who volunteer to bring Communion to the sick, to take someone to their doctor’s appointment, or to drive them to Sunday Mass or shopping or to help in any other way, especially for the elderly and those in need.
St Jude's Church in Scoresby
With all the Government and Diocesan regulations, we make sure that all the volunteers have the necessary documentation and training. Gradually the parishioners are becoming more aware of JudeCare and are willing to help. You never know who gets more joy: the one helping or the one getting help.
Through regular visits of the volunteers to some of our parishioners, new friendships are developed and some people, who after Covid felt “far and forgotten” by the Church, again feel part of the wider community. There is still a lot to do, mostly in the personal and spiritual formation of the volunteers. But a visit from a fellow parishioner or receiving Communion and being strengthened by the Bread of Life is always much appreciated especially by the house bound. As the saying goes: We are the Lord’s hands, we are his feet, so let us do some good while we can and wherever we can.
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2023 edition of the Salesian Bulletin, available now!