Abraham is a dedicated Catholic lay chaplain who provides support to young patients and their families at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. In the lead-up to our Bishop’s Christmas Appeal, supporting the ministry of chaplaincy, we spoke to Abraham to learn about his role, the people he assists, and what he finds most rewarding about his vocation.
Starting out as a volunteer with the pastoral care team at Canberra Hospital in 2018, Abraham was drawn to helping people in their moments of need from a very early age, following a personal encounter of God’s love in 2008.
“I was born into a Catholic family, to very devoted Catholic parents. We went to church and practised the faith daily. But it wasn’t until I was about 26 that I really came to see how God looks after us and loves us. That’s when I started to feel there was a calling to serve and do God’s work.”
In 2016, Abraham joined the pastoral care role in his church. He then completed a short course on chaplaincy, which he says “really prepares you for this ministry – especially in hospitals or prisons.” Not long after completion, he commenced working with The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, calling it “a beautiful opportunity”.
When asked what a typical day looks like for a chaplain, Abraham is enthusiastic.
“We start the day with devotions. It’s a multi-faith team of nine, with representatives from different denominations and faiths. There will be at least three or four people present,” says the chaplain. “We pray for the staff, patients and their families that we support. Then I see Catholic patients here along with others.” Typically, there are 50 to 60 identified Catholics on any given day at the hospital, though many do not identify their religion upon admission.
Abraham reflects that being a lay chaplain is a lifelong learning experience. “We are always learning and it never ends. It is very interesting to work with a multi-faith, multi-denominational team. There’s a lot to learn from each other,” he says. “We also have a priest who comes on a Friday to celebrate Mass and look after the sacramental needs of the hospital. And we’ve recently been joined by another chaplain, so, there’s two of us now,” he says with excitement.
It is common for patients at the hospital to mistake the role of a chaplain with that of a priest. To this, Abraham says, “it’s actually a collaborative work between the priests and the chaplains here. When there is a requirement for the last rites or when we are in need of a sacrament, a chaplain will call a priest. As chaplains, we administer pastoral care, and we do this by supporting the patients, their families, and the staff at the hospital. It’s more ‘spiritual care’, so to speak.”
Abraham’s role, he says, is to offer a ministry of presence. “We may not be able to answer every question a person has, but most of the time, it is the ministry of presence we can offer: listening with empathy, and walking with people in their journeys.”
For those who have suffered long-term illnesses and have remained in hospital for over a year, Abraham says it is “very rewarding” to see their health turn around over time. He gives the example of a mother with four children who walked into his office one day, asking if he would pray for them.
“It was an interesting question, especially as she was not a religious person. I was the one who was there, and I said, ‘Of course, we are here to pray for you’. One of her children was sick and had to be admitted to hospital, but she had no one else to help her with her three other children. So we all went to the chapel and prayed together. They came back later to testify about the healing they received, the peace that they now enjoy in their family, but more importantly, the trust and faith they now have in God. That was a God moment really!
“There was another family we were supporting in the hospital, a two-year-old girl diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. We had the privilege to support her family in their long journey here in the hospital, through our prayers and presence.
“In the months that followed, I helped organise her baptism. Later, they brought a card to the hospital with my name on it. It said: ‘Thank you for praying for me and supporting me and my family. Thank you for your visit and the spirit in which you organised my Christening. We will never forget you. Miracles do happen.’ Every time I look at it, I’m in tears.”
Working within the public hospital system and certainly alongside multi-denominational teams, Abraham is respectful of potential religious boundaries and openly states that it is not a chaplain’s role to evangelise. He does, however, insist that chaplains like himself live out their faith daily and never compromise it.
“We are making sure that the Catholic faith and God’s presence is, in some way, being represented in every hospital and prison.”
Learning of Abraham’s work with the patients, families and staff at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead epitomises the profound effect a chaplain’s kindness and prayers can have on a person – especially those who are vulnerable and in need of support and spiritual guidance.
You can help our Catholic Care chaplains give comfort, faith and hope to people suffering, with a gift to the Bishop’s Christmas Appeal today by calling (02) 8838 3482 or visiting yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/appeal-christmas
*For privacy, the girl’s image has been changed.