Health Care for the Church is an Apostolate and Not Just a Profession

His Grace Most Rev Prakash Mallavarapu, Archbishop of Vizag

The Archbishop of Visakhapatnam Most Rev Prakash Mallavarapu, who is the Chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Office for Healthcare delivered the keynote address on the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of Sister Doctors Forum of India at St. John’s Medical College last Saturday. We present his talk below:

Congratulations and prayerful greetings to Dr. Sr. Beena, the president of Sister Doctors Forum of India (SDFI), other members of the executive committee, and all the doctor sisters and others present here on this happy occasion of Silver Jubilee of the Sister Doctors Forum. Twenty five years of fellowship and communion, and journeying together supporting and strengthening one another in fulfilling and continuing the healing mission of Jesus Christ. The common mission unites all of us and all of you!

On behalf of the members of the CBCI and in particular the members of bishops of CBCI Office for Health Care, Archbishop William D’Souza of Patna, Bishop Jacob Manathodath of Palaghat, CBCI Office of Health Care Secretary, Fr. Mathew Perumpil, I greet all of you on this occasion of crossing a significant milestone of 25 years! I place on record our appreciation of the Church of your apostolate! You are reaching most remote areas and you are serving the noble cause of heath care. You are a witnessing  presence!

In the Vedic tradition we know the Seers spoke about the cosmic order, Rita – ṛta – (Sanskrit – “truth” or “order”), in Indian religion and philosophy — everything in the cosmos is held together in harmony. But this rta, order can be interrupted, arta! In the book if Genesis after the creation was completed, it is said, God saw, everything was good and was good. But we know, the beauty and order did not last long!

Today, there are any number of forces at work contributing towards health hazards. From time immemorial there have been individuals and groups that strove to maintain the Rita of the body and mind, by curative and preventive methods. Human genius has millions of success stories of restoring the order of body and mind utilizing resources that are available. The reasons or causes for the disorders are not always visible and immediately accessible.

There is that mystery element about health disorders and also of about the restoration of the order. The why and what of “the order and disorder” are not readily comprehensible. We have to see the mystery that is there. We have to also accept that the mystery can neither be left unexplored but it cannot also be fully understood. This admirable human body will always manifest that mystery and we have to keep “wondering” at how it is made and how it functions in certain order, rita. We are happy as long as this “body” of ours is in “proper” order! We are in that mission in doing all that is possible to restore order with all the knowledge and skills that are available!

That is the mission assigned for the gifted and privileged few, the physicians and doctors. We Christians believe that this mission is God-given. God who created everything and placed in perfect order redeems the disorderly situation. In Jesus Christ this redemption has been inaugurated and that redemptive work is entrusted to his disciples. Thy mystery dimension will still remain as to why suddenly disorders come in and also when redeemed it makes us wonder about how it was possible.

Thanks be to God, physical sciences open some doors and windows to enter the mystery of the body and each time something more of that mystery becomes visible. Doctors form one important section of people in the society that are entrusted with this mission of helping the humanity to cope with the disorders while knowing fully well the whole of the mystery cannot be fully understood. We cannot give up the mission running away from the human misery caused by the disorders that creep into the human person, body and spirit!

Health Care for the Catholic Church is an apostolate and not just a profession. It is a service! It is Church’s response to one of most important needs of humanity, namely, alleviation of pain and suffering, physical or otherwise, caused by some disorders in the body and mind. Human being, created in the image and likeness of God is meant to be “whole and happy,” in body and spirit or soul. What is ill health, bodily or mental, if not the disturbance of the set order or prescribed order? When the order, the rita, the body, mind and psyche, there are consequences and a restoration is the need. The work of restoration of disturbed order is an essential part of the salvific work to be undertaken.

But here too we are faced with the mystery of life. Putting things in proper order presumes a level certainty about the what ‘order’ is proper “order” and what kind of disorder has to be handled. We know that our confidence about the full comprehension of the situation and about what we plan to do in order to handle the disorder in the body or mind or psyche can at stake! This is where I see how the surprises that fascinates and excites you for the successful handling of the situation and the disappointing or shocking situation when things do not work.

The only way is to accept the mystery and to tell ourselves or yourselves “only so much is possible!”  But, it hurts our pride! Sometimes it hurts deeply… I know how when all the good that is done is forgotten by the kith and kin of the patients, when they shout, quarrel and even destroy the properties, etc. when things do not work! We cannot say like one said, “I have argued for years that we do not have a health care system in America. We have a disease-management system – one that depends on ruinously expensive drugs and surgeries that treat health conditions after they manifest rather than giving our citizens simple diet, lifestyle and therapeutic tools to keep them healthy”

Through health care apostolate, as the members of the Church are engaged in the saving work of Christ. Christian doctors, and you Sister Doctors in a very unique way, are continuing Christ’s healing mission. You have to see that there is something divine about this your engagement in these health care services. In today’s scenario of commercialization and industrialization of health care services one can lose sight of this dimension of sharing in the divine mission in attending to life is not considered sight of! We are partnering with God or rather God wants us to partner with him!

Continue to believe that you are in an important God-given mission and that should be source of your confidence! Continue to hope in the Divine Healer, Jesus Christ whose grace and power that are assured! Continue to love your mission of engaging in the health care apostolate as a service to the Humanity!

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