Healing spirits with a gentle presence in healthcare

April 12, 2016

HOUSTON — Pope Francis declared this Jubilee Year of Mercy as a time for people to be close to those who are suffering “so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship and our fraternity.” The Holy Father believes this is an opportune time to increase collaboration between pastors and laity in the mission of “affectionately and tenderly caring for the sick and dying.” (Vatican Radio, 8/18/15)

Through the efforts of clergy and lay ministers, the Catholic Chaplain Corps provides sacramental and pastoral care to patients, families and staff of healthcare institutions in the Texas Medical Center and select healthcare institutions within the Archdiocese supported by education and training. This includes patients and families living in other states and countries that seek treatment from the medical center and select institutions within the Archdiocese.

The ministry is one of 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF). DSF directly supports the ministry’s ability to provide sacramental, pastoral and spiritual care to meet the increasing needs of the patients, families and hospital staff. 

“We serve all those who come to our place seeking not only medical treatment, but also healing of the spirit,” said Father Cagoco, D.S., director of the Catholic Chaplain Corps. “We hope that through our presence at the bedside, we remind patients and their families of the great mercy of God and celebrate it through the Eucharist and the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. We try to be a healing and gentle presence that creates an atmosphere where patients and families are free to tell their stories and express their feelings without the fear of being judged and condemned.” 

Father Michael Barrosa, also with the Chaplain Corps, said providing comfort to the sick and dying is at the forefront of what the Jubilee of Mercy is all about.

“A Catholic chaplain’s presence in a hospital setting can give a powerful incentive to the sick to accept God’s mercy,” Father Barrosa said. “The sick are in the best situation where life-changing incidents make them open to God. That is why I personally have to be very attentive to signs of their willingness to talk about things very close to their heart and whatever needs unburdening in confession.”

“I think the sick should be in the forefront of the ministry of the Church, and I was delighted by Pope Francis’ description of the Church as a field hospital,” Father Barrosa said. “If our Lord Jesus said that the ‘poor you will always have with you,’ he also could say, ‘The sick you will always have with you.” 

Father Barrosa ministered recently to a patient at Southwest Memorial Hospital who is an example of how important this ministry is to those who have reached the periphery of life and threshold of death.

“A patient told me that nothing happens by chance,” said Father Barrosa. “He said, ‘Because I was confined in a hospital where I met a priest, this was the best thing that ever happened to me. God used my sickness to be near Him.’”

Along with the staff, the ministry also gets a lot of support from volunteers to support the work of the religious and lay volunteers currently on staff. Each person receives training and education through a program provided by the director of Mission Integration, CPE director and staff of the Pastoral Care Department of Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center. 

Along with the faithful supporters of the DSF, Father Cagoco credits Daniel Cardinal DiNardo and Father Italo Dell’Oro for the pastoral, moral and administrative support they provide, as well as the priests and pastoral assistants, teaching staff and office administrator of the Chaplain Corps.

“I, most of all, would like to thank all the patients and families who taught me how to be a humble and gentle presence and taught me a lot about myself, about life and death, and about God,” Father Cagoco said.