CATHOLIC MINISTRY AT CAPE REGIONAL HOSPITAL
I would like to share with you my own personal-faith journey in ministering to the sick at Cape Regional Hospital, Cape May Court House. This pastoral care to the sick gives me the opportunity to represent in persona Christi the healing power of God.
Catholic hospital chaplaincy provides spiritual care to Catholic patients who are weakened by illness and confined in hospitals. The hospital is often a sad environment. You see the reality of people from all walks of life who are suffering and dying. The challenge that I face when I visit the sick is this: How am I going to let them feel that God is love?
The objective of my visit is to let the sick feel the power of faith, hope and love manifesting through the sacraments that I administer and the words that I share. It can be a depressing environment, but the power of God’s love is visibly manifesting through the sensitivity and care of the doctors, nurses, aides, caring loved ones, chaplains and praying community.
The foundation of my ministry to the sick is Jesus Christ, our Divine Healer. The Spirit has anointed Jesus to heal, to lift up, to encourage, to teach, to give sight and freedom.
The church continues Christ’s ministry of healing in a variety of approaches. The Diocese of Camden is doing an excellent job of taking care of the spiritual needs of the sick. With humility, being a chaplain, I am carrying forward Christ’s healing ministry to the sick by being present and administering the sacraments of holy Communion, reconciliation and anointing of the sick.
My pastoral work in the parish is intertwined with my hospital ministry. When I visit the sick, I am also fulfilling the vision and mission of the parish. In other words, the hospital ministry is also part of the parish’s on-going mission of building up the Christian community.
My spiritual journey in the parish is the very source of energy that truly inspires me to minister to the sick.
Pope Francis invites us “to open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help” (Misericordiae Vultus, 15).
The sick Catholic faithful who are confined to hospitals are included in this challenge. The sick are not only struggling physically, but they are also suffering from emotional, psychological and spiritual pains. It is an awesome assurance that in their moments of vulnerability, there is a Catholic presence that generously shows compassion to them.
Jesus inspires us to reach out with concern to bring life and hope to others who are sick.
He urges us to touch, to heal, and to console. Christ says, “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the fullest” (Jn 10:10). This is what he did to sinners, the sick, the blind, the paralyzed and the dead. Life burst forth for those people like a fountain of well-being because he came to supply it abundantly. That is what human compassion is all about.
As a priest chaplain, I may not be able to work miracles, but I can share in the healing work of Christ. I can give them holy Communion for their spiritual nourishment. I administer the sacrament of the sick to heal their souls. I can hear confession for their conversion and reconciliation. I can help the sick cope with their difficulties by a friendly and cheerful visit with words or gestures of encouragement.
When we touch a sick person, that sick person will not be physically healed. But I am sure that as we touch the sick person, the broken heart of that person will be healed. The wonder of the human touch has mended so many broken hearts. The human hands have power to bring healing, to bring joy, and to bring consolation.
The sick need the love of God made real for them through the experience of care and concern shown by the people around them. Just by being there, even though we are powerless, we can make faith in God real for them. To show that God is there to protect them from devastating fears, doubts, worries and anxieties that paralyze their spirits. He is there to give them the courage and grace to journey with him so that whatever illness may do to their bodies, it will bring clarity, peace and dignity to their souls.
Thus, this Catholic chaplaincy ministry at Cape Regional Hospital allows me to make these following profound realizations:
— It teaches me that the world is full of suffering people.
— It gives me a lesson that a life entrusted into the care of Jesus Christ finds hope and healing.
— It challenges me that hope can be reinforced through concrete expressions of love.
— It makes me aware that our pain can motivate us to pray with others.
— It leads me to believe that as we pray and support the sick, we receive abundant blessings from God
Every Christian is called to this ministry of healing in one way or another. And we have this truth: If the Lord gives us a mission, he will also give us the resources and sufficient grace we need to carry it out. May we never lose this missionary spirit of helping the sick, for there’s still so much to be done.
May we always pray:
Lord, give us a gift of healing and evangelization. Open our eyes, our hearts, our hands, our ears, our wills to the needs of the sick. Give us a zeal to reach out and touch the sick with your healing love. Bless all the sick in our diocese, their loved ones, families, healthcare professionals, and all the people who are lovingly taking good care of the sick. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Father Cosme de la Pena serves as parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Angels Church and chaplain at Cape Regional Hospital, Cape May Court House.
For more information or questions about the services provided by VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services of the Diocese of Camden, contact our Call Center at 1-888-26VITALity (1-888-268-4825).
Sister Mary Frances Kyle, SSJ
As a hospital chaplain for the past 31 years in the Diocese of Camden, I have a deep sense of gratitude to God and to the Diocese for this great privilege of ministering to our patients. My focus is primarily on our Spanish-speaking patients but I also see may other patients as well. What I have learned is that each patient is unique, and each encounter with a patient is a profound revelation of God. I am often touched by the openness of our patients in sharing their life’s journey. Being in the hospital, away from the business of everyday life, gives people the time and space to look within to reset their priorities, to discover God anew, within themselves, within their families, and especially in the challenges that abound in their daily lives.
When someone is overwhelmed with a serious illness or a new diagnosis, they often don’t want to burden their loved ones with their feelings of fear and worry. If they can talk it over with someone else, especially with a chaplain, they will often feel more comfortable in sharing their concerns with the family. As a chaplain, I have the time to listen both to what is being said, and on a deeper level, to what is left unsaid. In these sharings, I am constantly amazed at the faith and trust in God’s providence, and the awesome realization that our lives are in God’s hands. Again and again, I hear stories of how God has been acting in each one’s life. And it is always with the sure knowledge that God is not about to abandon them now – or ever! Our Spanish-speaking patients always say, “Primero Dios,” meaning that God is first and that whatever happens, God is in charge!
Many times I am asked to see a patient who has just received “bad news” or one who is sad or lonely, or perhaps is homeless, with no support system. Listening to these patients’ struggles trying to help them to see where God may be present in their lives, can remind them (and me) of God’s tender, personal love for each of us. Just being present in a non-judgmental way, letting the patient know that someone cares – holding a hand, drying a tear – being a compassionate presence – can make a great difference.
Our hospital, ATLANTICARE, is very blessed to have a full-time, on-call priest chaplain, Fr. Bob Matysik, as well as a part-time chaplain, Deacon Frank Cerullo. We also have a very dedicated team of Eucharistic Ministers.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that my personal journey has been deeply transformed through years of interaction with the sick. as a Sister of St. Joseph, we pray every day “to stand open and powerless before God, completely dependent on Jesus, to be a healing presence in any and all circumstances.” I know for certain, that this ministry of Pastoral Care allows me to be the hands and face and voice through which Jesus touches, smiles, and speaks to His beloved sick. What a humbling experience – and how grateful I am.
Deacon Thomas Fargnoli
“What I’ve found in the hospitals are many people who have faith and believe in God but are not churchgoers. For whatever reason over the years they had broken away from the church. I view this as a very good opportunity to reintroduce them to a loving God, a compassionate God. I try to help them feel like they’re a part of something, whether they come to church or not; that they’re still connected and that God cares for them; that people care for them. Chaplaincy has given me a chance to practice what I preach. This was a chance to live Matthew 25: ‘You fed me when I was hungry, you visited me when I was sick. When you visited the least of my brethren you visited me.’ To me this is really doing what Jesus himself wanted us to do.
“A lot of times I find myself talking not so much about their illness, but you find they have many things going on in their lives that brought them to the hospital. Just listening, most times, is what I do. At the end of the visit the prayer I put together, instead of a packaged prayer, I try to make it relevant to what they told me so that they know God is very aware of what they’re going through. For me, my spiritual connection, my relationship with the Lord has been solidified and has increased with this ministry. When someone looks at me and says, ‘Thank you for visiting me,’ ‘Thank you for talking to my mother’ – and I’m just listening, not doing anything miraculous – I just feel that I’m meant to be here. As much as I want to help them spiritually, many times I’ve found they’re helping me.
“When I was thinking about becoming a deacon, one priest I talked to for guidance said, ‘We’re around people during their very critical times, good and bad; around them when they’re getting married and special things are happening; also around them when bad things happen.’ I find that being around people at those times, it’s just a really human thing. The rewarding thing is feeling like you made a difference, as small as it may be.
“Father Wilson, my mentor here at the hospital, told me, ‘These people obviously need a doctor and nurses, but I want you to know that spiritual health is just as important in getting them back to health.’ We have a physical part and a mental part – your thoughts and how you think, they’re connected to the physical. Likewise, the spiritual, the third part, is very important as well. You can’t see it but when you love someone and they love you it influences your other two parts. When you’re cared for, when you’re loved, it helps your physical part and your mental part. They’re all connected; they’re all dependent on each other. Love is the best way to describe it, because it’s as close to the spiritual realm as we can get.”
Deacon Anthony Cioe
“Chaplains work in hospitals and nursing homes and what we encounter in each is very different. In the hospital we deal with folks where it’s either a sudden illness or an operation; or there are end of life issues; children being born and it’s joyful, or children being born and it’s not joyful.
“In my first week at one of the hospitals a woman gave birth to twins and one twin appeared to be healthy while the other twin was ill and was probably not going to make it. I was called because they wanted us to baptize the baby. The mother was holding the baby and it was probably her last moments she’d be able to hold that child. As I baptized the baby, as I was pouring the water over the baby’s head, the mother’s tears were mixing with the baptizing water. It was one of the most moving things I have ever experienced. That was a family that understood the importance of the sacraments, of baptism, of Christ being a part of this new baby’s short life. I tear up whenever I think about it.
“At the nursing homes we encounter people who have been very strong in their faith; we encounter other people who have fallen away from faith during their lives. As I was making the rounds, visiting people who are Catholic, I recently encountered an elderly gentleman who has just a wonderful personality. But he was distraught that his independent life was pretty much over and worried about the future. He wasn’t particularly open to talking about his faith life, but as the weeks progressed, I asked him, as I always did if he would like to receive communion. One day he said he would, but would need to go to confession first. Our priest chaplain, Father Hartman, had a chance to meet with him, speak with him, and slowly over weeks he went to confession. He’s receiving the Eucharist and we’re now bringing him to Mass when we have it at the facility. This is now the joy of his life: that he is experiencing his faith again in a complete way.
“You never know what’s going to happen. While there are some routine things that happen every day, other days we will have nurses or doctors come up to us and say, ‘Will you pray with me? I’m having a rough day.’ We chaplains need to be open to where the Spirit is leading us that particular day so we can minister the way that God has called us to minister.
“I think that when people are in the hospital or in a nursing facility they begin to understand their mortality and they recognize that they need to rebuild their faith or that they need to live it out better at that important point in their lives. Some people can continue to be deaf, but other people when they come to that crossroads, all those seeds that were planted at some point in their lives begin to take root. The crisis in the person’s life or the major life changing event gives the person the need to think through, ‘What is my relationship with God? How do I begin to strengthen it?’
“Every day I see God’s love. I will walk past a room and I will hear a husband read the newspaper to his wife. I will walk past another room and I will see an adult child feeding their parent at lunch or dinner time. People say to me, ‘How can you enjoy doing this so much?’ I tell them because I see God’s love at every turn that I make, in every encounter that I have. I can see God and feel God’s presence. With some people it’s totally obvious; with other people they just need to have the opportunity to talk or feel that somebody cares about them. For me every second of every day is just a reinforcement of God’s love for us. When people are the most vulnerable or broken, when people are the most scared, when people are the most anxious, you see what’s really deep in them.”