Healthcare is a Big Challenge to Catholic Church: Pope
From Our Special Correspondent
Daijiworld Media Network - Bangalore
Bangalore, Nov 28: The Church always turns with the same spirit of fraternal sharing to those who experience pain, animated by the Holy Spirit with the power of love, returned meaning and dignity to the mystery of suffering, Pope Benedict XVI said in his message to the 27th International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care held in Rome in Vatican’s new synod hall recently.
Speaking to Daijiworld, Archbishop of Bangalore Most Rev Dr Bernard Moras, who attended the five-day conference from November 15 to 20 as one of the five Indian delegates and presented a paper on ''Catholic Hospitals in a challenging world,” recalled Pope’s message of encouragement to all those involved in the ministry of health care to continue the good service to the Church, Society and Humanity, as healthcare was a big challenge to the Catholic Church.
The inaugural mass of the conference with, "The Hospital, Setting for Evangelisation: A Human and Spiritual Mission," as the theme was presided by Vatican’s Secretary of State, His Eminence Signor Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, President of the Dicastery, who inaugurated the conference, said the proclamation of the Word and the care of the sick were the two fundamental activities of the Church. In the light of the current Year of Faith and the recent thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, hospitals as important places for evangelisation constitute a crossroads of cultures and religions, areas where the apostolate of mercy.
''In industrialised countries, aside from the grave economic and financial crises, which have struck a number of nations and led to a drastic review of health services,” he felt serious challenges exist beginning with the preservation of the identity of Catholic hospitals and other health centres, and the maintenance of their specific role of 'subsidiarity'.
''This must be achieved without in any way diminishing the importance of fundamental issues such as full respect for life from conception to natural end; the humanisation of healthcare (which means showing full respect for patients, their identity and life experiences), palliative care etc,” Archbishop Zimowski said.
The Archbishop spoke of the grave difficulties in accessing basic healthcare, and recalled that ''people often die on account of a lack of basic medicines costing just a few dollars, as in the case of anti-malarial treatments.”
120,000 Health Institutions All Over World
He also emphasised the scarcity of basic diagnostic instruments and specialised training for healthcare personnel, due primarily to "the lack of opportunities" for further study, usually for economic reasons. He also noted that "the few resources available to hospitals in the poorest regions must be used for the benefit of the population without discrimination on the basis of faith or ethnic origin, in accordance with the Word, the teachings of the Church and the spirit and history of missions.”
Archbishop Zimowski said the tangible result of the Church’s role in the field of healthcare had led to over 120,000 Catholic healthcare and social centres from dispensaries working in remotest areas to the big metropolitan cities and university polyclinics that are active thoroughout the world.
Fr Augusto Chendi, Under Secretary of Holy See Press Office, said the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Workers, on the occasion of the next World Day of the Sick on February 11 will publish a manual, translated into various languages and valid for the whole of the Liturgical Year.
The new volume will offer patients and all those involved in their physical and spiritual care a point of reference for theological reflection, pastoral care and prayer. ''Our intention in entrusting this manual to the Church, and to the world of healthcare, parishes and voluntary work, is to create a communion of grace, prayer and mutual charity,” Fr Chendi said.
Challenges to Catholic Hospitals
Archibishop Bernard Moras, in his paper on ''Catholic Hospitals in a Challenging World,” said India has witnessed remarkable improvement in the health situation of the people with gradual but steady growth in the personnel, healthcare facilities and the availability of some of the best treatment and healthcare facilities.
However, a vast majority of the people, especially the poor in under-served areas, found basic survival itself as a daily struggle and health a distant dream. Many people did not have access to affordable healthcare or even safe drinking water and sanitation, he said.
''The costs of medical care have risen to such prohibitive levels making facilities unavailable to many and leading to medical systems becoming unsustainable. High technology has an inhuman face leading to people feeling isolated and fragmented,” he said pointing out that, ''Death in modern medicine is seen as failure and is aggressively fought to such an extent that people are not able to die with dignity.”
The Catholic Church, Archbishop Moras said, has to ''play a vital role in attending the sick and alleviating their suffering, especially of those who are poor and cannot afford adequate treatment.” He explained the yeomen service provided by the Catholic Church in the health sector since time immemorial. ''Healthcare is one of the most crucial and essential service required by every citizen regardless of caste, creed and status. Appropriate and high quality care can save and change innumerable lives.”
The healing ministry has a greater role to play in the existing healthcare situation of the country marked by challenges posed by communicable and non-communicable diseases, ailments of lifestyle, women and children’s problems as well as environmental issues, Archbishop Moras said.
Barely 2% Catholics Meet 20 % of India’s Health Needs
The Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI) is one of the world’s largest non-governmental organizations with an expansive base of 3,300 member institutions, including large, medium and small hospitals, health centres and diocesan social service societies. CHAI network comprises 11 regional units, 600 sister-doctors, 25,000 sister-nurses and 10,000 plus religious para-professinals with roughly 21 million accessing CHAI healthcare facilities annually.
Though Catholics constitute barely 2 % of the country’s total population, the Catholic health facilities account for around 20 % of the healthcare provided in India, Archbishop Moras said pointing out that the Catholic Church has 746 hopsitals, 2,574 health centres, 70 rehabilitation centres, 107 centres for mental healthcare, 61 centres for alternative systems of medicine, 162 non-formal healthcare facilities, 115 nursing training centres including 6 medical colleges.
The Catholic Church was also running 165 leprosy treatment centres, 416 healthcare centres for the aged, 62 centres for tuberculosis treatment and the terminally ill, 67 community care centres for people with HIV/AIDS and 60 counselling centres.
Archbishop Moras called on the Pope for a private audience and sought special blessings on the Archdiocese of Bangalore as it celebrates the Diamond Jubilee and also for the people of Karnataka. The Archbishop also met with the priests of Bangalore Archdiocese and the priests from St Peter’s Pontifical Seminary, who pursue various courses in Rome and presided at the Holy Mass at the Altar of the Tomb of St Peter in St Peter’s Basilica besides meeting with a number of Pontifical Dicasteries and the Colleges and Universities of his student priests.