Inspired by mercy, hospital chaplain serves with reverence, love

September 22, 2015

HOUSTON — Before becoming director at Catholic Chaplain Corps (CCC) for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Father Eugene Cagoco, DS, was assigned to Texas Children’s Hospital for three years and six months. He then served as pastor of St. Matthew the Evangelist Catholic Church in Houston for two years. 

“St. Matthew Parish is a great witnessing, worshiping and serving community and I’m glad that I became part of the community even for a couple of years,” he said. Father Cagoco had had always been drawn to priesthood since he was a little boy. He said his parents regularly brought him to church liturgical celebrations and engaged him as altar server during Mass.

“The friendly and joyful disposition of the Columban Missionaries from Ireland inspired me to become a priest,” Father Cagoco said. “They always visited our family and they had personal connections with people. As a little boy, that was my initial attraction to the priesthood.”
He said he joined the Disciples of Hope initially because the superior was friendly and accommodating, and because of the community life that he experienced there. “As I immerse myself in our ministry to provide pastoral and sacramental care for the sick and dying, I learned to embrace it as part of my priestly life,” he said. 

During a recent interview with the Texas Catholic Herald, Father Cagoco discussed his new role at CCC and the Year of Mercy among other topics.

TCH: What drew you to being a hospital chaplain?
Father Cagoco: Like any other ministry, hospital chaplaincy is a gift and a responsibility. As a chaplain I provide Sacraments to those who need it; I provide pastoral presence at the bedside, listening to the patients’ feelings and even allowing painful questions to be raised without being judgmental and sometimes without even providing answers and solutions to their questions but simply being with them providing emotional support and presence. 

Offering nothing but a loving and affirming presence is quite a challenge for us who are used to solving and fixing problems and giving answers to all questions. There may be times when questions don’t need to be answered. There may even be times when words are not necessary. Like Job’s friends who sat with him in silence during his deep sorrow and anguish, sometimes all we can do is to be with the patient and family and hold their story with reverence and love.

This ministry has taught me more than anything else to be a gentle presence with those who are in crisis; to be with them in their painful journey to a deeper understanding of the mystery of life and death, and ultimately to the mystery of God. It is indeed a real gift to journey with people who are sick and become part of their journey towards healing and reverently walk with those who struggle to embrace eternity. 
They remind me of my own journey towards healing and wholeness. There is something in this ministry that connects me to the suffering Jesus on the cross and to the mystery of the Father’s love which provides me the opportunity to work for my own inner integration and healing. I was not initially drawn to this ministry, but the richness of my experience as a chaplain made me stay and invited me in a radical way to grow in my capacity to be present in the here and now with those who are suffering. 

TCH: Why is the role of the CCC so important?
Father Cagoco: We see Jesus in the Gospel caring for the sick, bringing healing and total well-being. That is a very crucial part of his ministry. This ministry of caring for the sick and dying is an important mission of the Church. Our Catholic presence in predominantly non-Catholic institutions in the Medical Center has fulfilled an important role of the Church’s mission to care and to share the healing power of Jesus’ presence in the Sacrament and in the compassionate pastoral presence of the ordained and lay ministers. Faith plays a very significant role in a holistic approach to healing. As Catholic chaplains, we support and nurture that faith through Sacraments and pastoral presence. 

TCH: Do you have any specific plans as the CCC director?
Father Cagoco: The CCC priests and representatives from the Pastoral Assistants will hold a series of meetings to make assessments and planning. We will assess and evaluate our ministry, come up with a clear understanding and definition of who we are, and a clearer definition of our mission as CCC. 

We hope to come up with a four-year plan to help us in our direction. As director of the corps, I see my role as facilitator and animator of the gifts and charism of all those involved in this ministry and to make sure that our brothers and sisters who are sick and those who are at the edge of life will receive the spiritual care that they need. 

TCH: How do you feel about the Pope declaring this year to be a Year of Consecrated Life and how important is this to vocations?
Father Cagoco: I feel grateful and humbled being a member of a religious community. It is an invitation for me to be more intentional in living out my vows and commitment to a consecrated life. I believe the Pope’s declaration of this year being a Year of Consecrated Life will inspire young people who are discerning to live a life fully consecrated to God. 

TCH: Pope Francis has declared a Year of Mercy to run from Dec. 8 through Nov. 20, 2016. How is being a hospital chaplain directly related with the pope’s intent with Year of Mercy?
Father Cagoco: In the ancient world, people believed that sickness was a punishment from God. We know now that it is not true. We know that God is full of mercy. But sometimes I encounter patients who believe that God is punishing them. Perhaps deep in our psyche, some of us consciously or unconsciously believe that we are not worthy of God’s love. 

Part of the healing process is to embrace the healing power of God’s mercy; to believe and to be deeply convinced that although we are sinners, we are unconditionally loved by God. We want to convey the message of Pope Francis in declaring the Year of Mercy by giving witness to it through sharing a sacramental, compassionate and loving presence to those who are sick. 

TCH: What would others find surprising about you, what hobbies do you have?
Father Cagoco: I love to swim in the ocean. If I get a chance on my day off, I spend time swimming in Galveston or La Porte. It helps me to unwind and enjoy the water like a child. I don’t know if that is surprising, but that’s one of the things I enjoy doing aside from singing. 

TCH: Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for those discerning the priesthood?
Father Cagoco: Listen to your heart and listen to that tiny voice within you, and be prepared for a journey full of surprises and delight.