“You serve Jesus Christ — Jesus Christ in his passion, his suffering with the poor, the marginalized and those who have no one else to turn to. Your love for the suffering is a sign of God’s love. God’s compassion is in each of you in your compassion,” Archbishop José Gomez told 15 current and former hospital chaplains Aug. 24 during a Mass of Thanksgiving at the 60th anniversary of St. Camillus Center for Spiritual Care.
The afternoon celebration at St. Camillus Chapel near Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center also honored the 400th anniversary of St. Camillus de Lellis, patron saint of the sick and medical professionals. The archbishop noted that his father was a physician with a special devotion to the 16th century saint, who founded the Ministers of the Sick (Camellians).
“St. Camillus is indeed a blessed place in its partnership with Together in Mission, which is the archdiocese’s commitment to those who serve the poor,” said Father Chris Ponnet, chaplain and pastor of the Boyle Heights parish founded in 1954, which became St. Camillus Center for Pastoral Care in 1985 under its then-pastor, Father Don Kribs.
During Father Ponnet’s 20-year tenure at what’s now St. Camillus Center for Spiritual Care, chaplains have responded to 9,000 emergency calls and made 37,000 visits or attempted visits to patients in the medical center as well as nearby Keck Hospital and the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Outreach ministries at St. Camillus — including Pax Christi, CEP (Clinical Pastoral Education program for chaplains), Angel Interfaith Network, Catholic Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Persons, AIDS-HIV and Catholics Against the Death Penalty — were also honored during the liturgy and outdoor dinner after.
Sister Janet Husung has been a chaplain for five years, currently assigned to the jail unit on the first floor of the new LAC + USC Medical Center. “Really as chaplains, our mission is bringing hope to people in challenging situations,” she told The Tidings after Mass. “And I think the way that I bring hope is by helping them remember what gives them hope or what their faith is about if they have a religious faith.
“It’s giving them an opportunity to name what’s meaningful in their lives,” the Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet pointed out. “It may be hopeless in terms of getting out of jail in the next six months or conquering cancer or other medical conditions. But there’s always hope for something.”
Manuel Torres’ time as a hospital chaplain goes back 13 years. Today, he works mostly in the medical center’s 129-bed ER, usually with trauma patients. Their anxiety — from heart attack, gun-shot or other causes — is often very high.
“Our role is twofold,” said the 54-year-old chaplain. “We provide support to the patient as he’s being monitored and cared for in the ER, providing some level of support to help lower his anxiety. And to the family, which might be waiting because their son or daughter is undergoing some medical procedure, we offer support, too.
“So my role is more as a presence,” he added.