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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

World Day of the Sick

World Day of the Sick, February 11, 2022

Homily Notes of Bishop Brendan Leahy

St. John’s Hospital, Limerick

When people become sick, they become fragile, fearful, their hearts become heavy and uncertainties increase. Sickness can raise deep questions such as the question of the meaning of one’s life. Above all, the sick can become isolated and feel isolated. That’s why it’s so important to remember the sick, pray for them but, above all, be close to them. Just as God in Jesus Christ has come close to humanity, so too love and mercy pushes Christians to be close to the sick. It is good that we celebrate on February 11th each year, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes, a World Day of the Sick. Indeed, this is the 30th World Day of the Sick.

During the Covid pandemic, we saw many instances where the sick had to suffer in isolation and fear. We can be grateful that in hospitals and care centres such as St. John’s there were frontline staff capable of drawing close to those people, especially those approaching death. In doing so, you expressed God’s tender mercy. I know families were grateful. I recall the CEO, Emer Martin, at our Board Meetings reading some moving letters from family members, grateful for the care their loved ones had Covid received here in St. John’s.

So today as well as remembering and praying for the sick, we are remembering all of you here in St. John’s Hospital, praying for the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and all healthcare workers; as well as the chaplains and all the administrative staff who indirectly but really serve the sick here.

A hospital is a type of sanctuary, a sacred place where deep experiences are lived. In the face of illness, we become particularly vulnerable but also transparent to new insights into ourselves, our neighbours, our world, and our relationship with God. A healing beyond the treatment of our specific pathology can happen. It is good to recall this and recognise the dignity and privilege of healthcare work. Working in a hospital such as St. John’s isn’t just about doing a job. You are guardians of the flame of a healing charity that is also at work in the hearts of the sick who are listening, mysteriously, to the whispers of the voice of their conscience in the face of the challenges and limits of ill-health. There is an interior deep dialogue at work in those who are ill. That’s why, there is always a need for staff, metaphorically, like Moses, to take off our shoes and approach the sick with great reverence. Moving chapters in people’s biographies are being written during their stay in hospital. Yes, hospitals are always more than statistics and surveys and structural solutions to systemic problems.

Each year, the Pope issues a message for the World Day of the Sick. In this year’s message he thanks God for the progress that medical science has made, especially in recent times. It is true. New technologies have made it possible to prepare therapies that are of great benefit to the sick. Research continues to make a valuable contribution to eliminating old and new pathologies. Rehabilitation medicine has greatly expanded its expertise and skills. And yet, as Pope Francis notes, “none of this, however, must make us forget the uniqueness of each patient, his or her dignity and frailties.  Patients are always more important than their diseases, and for this reason, no therapeutic approach can disregard the significance of listening to the patient, his or her history, anxieties and fears. Even when healing is not possible, care can always be given”.

I was struck by Pope Francis’ line: “It is always possible to console, it is always possible to make people sense a closeness that is more interested in the person than in his or her pathology”.

I thank you in St. John’s for your consoling closeness to patients over many years. Founded over 240 years ago in 1780 by Lady Hartstonge and other benefactors as a Fever and Lock Hospital, this hospital has treated those suffering from epidemics during the Great Famine (1845-1847) and cholera outbreaks in other moments of the nineteenth century and now more recently cared for people during the Covid-19 pandemic. The neediest in our city and county have found relief in St. John’s when there was little in the way of healthcare facilities available in Limerick.

From 1888 at the invitation of the then Bishop of Limerick, Bishop Edward Thomas O’Dwyer the Nursing Sisters of the Little Company of Mary to the Hospital whose great care endeared St. John’s to the people of Limerick. I met a man recently from the local Garryowen area who spoke fondly of how as a child he would come here to the hospital and a sister would give him a sweet. The constant expressions of gratitude for care continue right up to today.

Care goes along with high standards. I congratulate you on the recent 2021 National Patient Experience Survey due to be published shortly by HIQA. Early indication of the results for St John’s Hospital are very positive indeed and reflect the outstanding quality of care provided by all staff throughout the hospital. In each area of the survey, St John’s scored higher than the National Average, scoring particularly high in the areas of being treated with dignity and respect; getting help from staff at the time of need; confidence and trust in staff.

I note with satisfaction that St John’s Hospital has been successful in its bid to be a pilot site for a new pilot inspection programme promoted by HIQA. St. John’s is one of only two hospitals in the Voluntary Healthcare sector supporting the pilot phase of the new inspection programme.

It is wonderful to hear how St. John’s, despite many challenges, will have all its beds open in March.

All of this is a source of pride in St. John’s. Its founding mission continues well at the service of the people of Limerick who hold the hospital in a special place in their hearts. The closeness of God’s loving and tender mercy and compassion continue to be felt here in this sanctuary-hospital of care.