Executive Summary



Pastoral Letter

by the Permanent Council

of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops


From the early days of this country, countless women and men have devoted their entire lives to caring for the sick and they left a powerful legacy of Catholic health ministry. All Catholics must now preserve, build upon, and keep in trust this legacy for future generations.


Unlike perhaps in the past, caring for the sick can no longer simply be the work of a dedicated few individuals; it must now become the concern and preoccupation of every Christian and the entire Christian community.


The vision and guiding principles of Catholic health ministry


First, the health care ministry of the Church is rooted in and modeled after the person and compassionate healing ministry of Jesus Christ, the “Divine Healer.”


Second, like Jesus, the healing ministry of the Church is aimed at the health and well-being of the whole person: physical, spiritual, mental, emotional and even social.


Third, the ministry of health and healing is an unmistakable sign that the Reign of God is close at hand, present in the very midst of our wounded and vulnerable humanity.


Fourth, the healing ministry keeps every Christian in close touch with the deep mystery of suffering. In the presence of this mystery, every Christian is invited to become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.


Fifth, there is a spiritual affinity between prayer and healing. Praying for those who are sick or suffering goes to the very heart of the healing ministry and thus to the heart of every Christian.


Sixth, yet another essential feature of the healing and caring ministry of the Church is a deep and uncompromising respect for human life – from its very conception to its natural death – and an equally deep reverence for the dignity of every person.


Seventh, the Church’s ministry of healing goes beyond the health care of individuals as such; it extends to the physical and social environment in which people live and work. This means that every Christian is called upon to be an advocate of justice and to help redress those unjust social structures that cause suffering to the disadvantaged groups in society.


Eighth, compassionate generosity is also an important dimension of the Church’s far-reaching ministry of healing. Christians are expected to give generously whenever people in distant lands suffer some unspeakable natural disaster, a tragic pandemic infection, or a severe human deprivation. Charity begins at home, but it must never stop there!


Today’s new challenges for Catholic health care services


During the past few decades, significant changes have taken place that have direct bearing on the future delivery of Catholic health care services and programs.


Canadian Catholics face the increasing departure of women religious from the sponsorship and operation of hospitals. As well, issues of sustainability, identity, leadership, financial constraints, government health care reforms, and the demand for increased accountability all present new challenges.


Catholic professional care-givers can and must make a difference in these changing times. Their voice, their presence, their excellence and faith-driven leadership are all crucial at this critical juncture.


The increasing role of the laity


Over the years, the responsibility for Catholic health care services has increasingly shifted to the laity. Lay leadership in health care must be diligently recruited, fostered and strengthened. The laity at large must become better informed about the new challenges facing Catholic health care. And those already engaged in the health care profession must be given greater support, pastoral assistance and faith-based leadership programs. Only when lay Catholics are so empowered can they hope to preserve and carry on the sacred legacy they have received from the past.


A faith-driven mission…


Catholic health care, today as in the past, derives from a faith conviction in the healing ministry and compassion of Jesus. Only when this faith conviction is sufficiently reflected upon, is deeply lived, and is granted sufficient public exposure, will the identity and mission of Catholic health care truly make a difference in the general scheme of things.


…in close partnership with others

Catholic health care does not function alone or in isolation. It seeks to collaborate closely with other faith-based institutions where the Church shares common values and goals. United with fellow Christians and believers from other faith groups, Catholics can make a distinct, positive contribution to our country’s public health care system. In partnership with others, they can bring about meaningful policy changes at the local, provincial and national levels.


11 February 2005