On this Friday’s World Day of the Sick, we are calling upon Australians to pay tribute to the valuable work Catholic health institutions undertake, not just in Australia, but around the world.
In 1992, St John Paul II established World Day of the Sick, to be held on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, as an opportunity to devote special attention to the sick and to those who provide them with assistance and care, both in health-care institutions and within families and communities.
Who would have thought that as we enter the third year of the pandemic we are still struggling to deal with the enormous impact it has on every aspect of our society?
Our members in Sydney – St Vincent’s, St John of God Health Care, Catholic Healthcare and Calvary, to name a few – run hospitals, aged-care providers, and look after those with disabilities. They have been at the forefront of the fight against COVID, constantly renewing their focus to deal with the next wave and the new challenges that come with it.
The constant threat of infection, particularly in aged-care homes, has taken its toll, with staff exhaustion and burnout a constant reminder of the pandemic’s unrelenting nature. The contact tracing, testing and vaccination of our city’s population has been vital to underpinning the state’s efforts in keeping the pandemic at bay and the population safe.
I have been amazed and inspired by the tales of dedication, professionalism and, most importantly, compassion that have been the hallmark of our care workers since COVID first made it to these shores in early 2020.
None of that surprises me because, to use a cliche, it is what we do.
That’s not to say that other healthcare providers are not doing their level best – they are. But it is in our DNA to accompany the most vulnerable among us – those in a palliative state, the homeless in our city’s streets, the women experiencing domestic violence, and other cohorts of our society that can often feel left behind.
In a world dominated by numbers of cases and deaths, our carers have never lost sight of the individual in need of their hand held, their story heard, or their meal shared.
I firmly believe this is because at the heart of what these very significant and sophisticated organisations do is the mission of the congregational orders of nuns that first came to our shores a century and a half ago – that is, to fulfil Jesus’s ministry of healing.
I am pleased to report that their mission is still very much alive in those Catholic institutions and that is why World Day of the Sick is so important.
In his message to Catholics to mark the day, Pope Francis spoke directly to healthcare workers the world over: “Dear healthcare workers, your service alongside the sick, carried out with love and competence, transcends the bounds of your profession and becomes a mission. Your hands, which touch the suffering flesh of Christ, can be a sign of the merciful hands of the Father. Be mindful of the great dignity of your profession, as well as the responsibility that it entails.”
I wholeheartedly agree with the Holy Father’s words and entreat you to think on Friday of all the wonderful people who care for us and who continue to do God’s important work.
Pat Garcia is the CEO of Catholic Health Australia, the largest not for profit grouping of health and aged care services in Australia.