Tolling the Bell

I’m in Rome this week. There is a lot I love about this city. Among the things I appreciate the most are the church bells. They are rung often and their beautiful sound echoes throughout the city. I especially love to hear them on a Sunday morning, when they peal out the Church’s joy at the resurrection of Christ and summon all who believe in him to worship.

The principal reason for my visit to Rome is to participate in a formation programme for persons involved in the leadership of Catholic healthcare. I’m glad to take part, because our Catholic hospitals and healthcare facilities are deserving of support. The ministry of Catholic healthcare should have its own bell! Lots of them, in fact. Sometimes it seems to me that it is among the Church’s best-kept secrets, but it should be both widely known and joyfully celebrated.

We have Catholic healthcare delivery in many places across Canada. I am most familiar with the situation in Alberta, where Covenant Health is a partner in the province’s fully integrated health system. Home to more than 11,000 employees and 2500 volunteers, Covenant Health carries on the tradition of Catholic healthcare inherited from the communities of religious women who initiated the province’s health system more than 150 years ago. It is accountable to the provincial health authority via legislation and service agreements. It is also, of course, answerable to the Church. This latter accountability is exercised through its relationship with Catholic Health of Alberta, a sponsor organization whose board I am privileged to chair and whose members are the Bishops of Alberta.

I’m very proud of the organization and of all who work within it. Its mission is rooted in that of the Church, its vision is shaped by the Gospel, and its service arises from the command of charity, especially towards the most vulnerable of persons.

About ten years ago, Covenant Health was formed by bringing together what were then a number of Catholic hospitals acting autonomously. As the process of merger unfolded, we were keen to carry forward the legacy of the Sisters and, on that basis, forge our own. So, a question frequently posed was: “What was distinctive about the presence of the Sisters in our hospitals?” The answer I heard most frequently was this: “With the Sisters, we felt safe.” I highlight this because the need to feel safe remains, and is, in fact, increasing. In many people I frequently encounter anxiety. The fear and angst have many sources, but there is one common desire: security. Of all places, it is in hospitals and healthcare institutions, where people naturally experience keenly their vulnerability, that they need most to be assured of their safety. They have this assurance in our Catholic hospitals, where the dignity of the human person must, in accord with our identity and mission, be fully respected and protected from life’s very beginning to its natural end.

Let the peals ring out! Catholic healthcare is a treasure. It is worthy of celebration.

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