Visit the sick- and the lonely
As a hospital chaplain I engage with a wide range of people, from the most faithful Mass attenders to those who do not feel ‘connected’ to the church at all – I prefer to say ’non church-going’ rather than ’lapsed’. The latter form about 80% of the catholic population, or 4 in 5- e.g Nottingham diocese has a Catholic population of 161,350 (Dec 14) , and Mass attendance is 30,349 (2015 Yearbook).
Such people may not have visited any church since their childhood, or just for weddings and funerals – because they have felt, or been, excluded, by their sexuality, their relationships, their poverty (material or spiritual); their work or family situation. This judgement can be self- imposed, expressed by outspoken parish members, or sometimes by the priest himself. As Pope Francis says- ‘Who are we to judge?’
The Door of Mercy is two-way, both inviting people of all ages into the church, but also ‘Crossing the Threshold’ into the world. When we are dismissed from Mass into our everyday lives we are challenged to act with the spirit we received at baptism.
So think of your neighbours, friends and family who no longer come to church, for a variety of reasons (I have heard many in my visits!) – lack of child or elderly relative-care; work commitments, physical or mental health limitations; no means of transport; changes they found difficult in their parish or church; lack of facilities or welcome at church [which may have changed since their last visit!]
When you meet them at the garden gate or at the shops – or maybe notice that they are not ‘out and about’ as they used to be – what do you do?
Sometime people have not been able to connect with their parish for years. I will sometimes give them contact details, as they leave the hospital.
They may value reconnecting with the community-if not physically, then by the personal approach, e.g. dropping off a newsletter, offering to drop in for a chat (if they invite you), letting them know what is going on locally. Practical support can also be provided through voluntary organisations such as SVP, Age Concern, Cruse etc, who will provide appropriate training and safeguarding.
I pray that when I meet patients they will say that they do feel part of their parish – and can name people who help them, especially those who do not have the blessing of dedicated family members.
They are grateful for the priests, deacons, extraordinary ministers who do visit them- but can we do more to ‘love our neighbour’?
-Christina Mottram, Catholic Chaplain for University Hospital Leicester, serving Glenfield and Leicester General Hospitals