Richard Gagnon

February 8, 2008


Dear friends in Christ,

This coming Monday, February 11th, 2008, marks World Day of the Sick.  This day, established by Pope John Paul II in 1992, is meant to recognize the reality of those who are ill within our communities and the responsibility that each of us has to be in solidarity with them.  World Day of the Sick is also a time to focus on the Christian meaning of suffering and Christ’s ever abiding presence among us as He who heals and saves:  “Come to me, all of you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”  (Matt 11:28)  This special day each year, is an opportunity to recognize the importance of all those who directly care for the sick and the elderly whether in Catholic hospitals and health care facilities, public hospitals or at home.  To care for the sick and the elderly in any capacity, whether as a health care professional or as a volunteer from the local parish community is to participate directly in the healing ministry of Jesus.

World Day of the Sick should call our attention to appreciate, value and support Catholic Health Care.  The Church has concerned itself with the treatment and care of those who are ill in Canada for over 400 years, starting with the first hospital established by Religious Sisters in the early colony of Quebec.  But what exactly is Catholic Health Care?  Even though there are many aspects to Catholic Health Care identity, put simply, it is placing Jesus at the very centre of the work of healing, caring and supporting the sick.  It is to identify the health care worker and volunteer with the image of Christ in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  There is no doubt that today Catholic Health Care is facing many problems such as funding cutbacks which threaten the quality of health care and even its viability.  Each member of the Church has a responsibility to support Catholic Health Care in the public forum as an important part of the mission of the Church.  In addition to these challenges, the change from Congregational to more Lay involvement in Health Care facilities presents a challenge and an opportunity to maintain and build a Catholic Christian identity in these facilities.  In spite of these challenges, we must always remember that Catholic Health Care is essentially a work of the heart.

It is in response to this basic Christian vocation to participate in the healing ministry of Jesus that I wish to announce the creation of a Diocesan Health Care Committee.  This Committee, composed of men and women of various backgrounds and experienced in the ministry of caring for the sick and the elderly, is to serve in a consultative capacity on health care issues, needs and concerns within the Diocese.  It will also work at developing initiatives which address health concerns and assist where possible with implementation.  I have also appointed Father William Hann as the Bishop’s Representative to Health Care and he will work closely with the Diocesan Health Care Committee.  To date, two regional gatherings of parish volunteers have occurred on Vancouver Island in order to gather information on the present situation regarding outreach to the sick and the elderly in the Diocese.  I have been greatly edified by the good work being done by so many people throughout the Diocese in reaching out to those who have health needs, whether as professional health care workers, volunteers from the parishes or those who serve on the Boards of our Catholic Hospitals.  The fact remains, however, that there is still much to be done if we are to be faithful good Samaritans.
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As a result of the two regional gatherings held with parish volunteers, the Diocesan Health Care Committee has formulated four major proposals.  To briefly summarize,

(1) Organization/Structure:  Parishes will be encouraged to develop pastoral care, outreach and bereavement ministries. 

(2)         Training/Education:  Training modules will be developed to educate parish pastoral care teams to ensure a unified and focused response that is available, accessible and relational.

(3)   Care for the Caregivers:  Caregivers will be given support in the form of ongoing educational workshops, retreat days and acknowledgement in the parishes. 

(4)   Advocacy and Action:  Options and actions will be explored to resolve the challenges with current privacy policies in British Columbia and to ensure that all who are in need and are receptive to both pastoral and sacramental care, can access it.

How can you help?  Firstly, it is vitally important that an atmosphere of prayer continue in our parishes not only for those who are ill but for those who are directly involved in this important ministry.  Secondly, be proactive and let your parish know of individuals who are in hospital or shut-ins at home, so that they can be visited.  Finally, become a parish volunteer yourself, either in one of our Health Care facilities or as part of the parish outreach team.  You might ask yourself:  “Is God calling me to be active in this way?”

In conclusion, this February 11th marks the beginning of a special Jubilee Year to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the appearances of Our Lady to St. Bernadette at Lourdes.  The 18 apparitions culminated in the miraculous spring of water which came forth from below the grotto and which has continued to be a powerful sign of faith and healing ever since.  The path of Catholic Health Care, whether at the professional level or at the volunteer level in the parish, begins with the water of our own Baptism where we were healed from sin and called forth as witnesses to Jesus, the Wounded Healer.  We all have a part to play in His healing ministry.


Yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Richard Gagnon
Bishop of Victoria