SILVER SPRING, Md. — Ministry is an integral part of the formation program at Holy Name College. As we, the simply professed friars, find ourselves in the midst of our new ministerial assignments, we are also finding new ways of encountering the presence of God in our midst.
Discovering God’s Grace
Three of us serve as hospital chaplain interns. George Camacho, OFM, is at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, Ramon Razon, OFM, at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Baltimore and I am at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Although Ramon and I admit we chose ministries to fulfill the requirements of our academic programs, we have found our ministries to be much more rewarding than we could have imagined.
Ramon recalled the time he supported a gentleman and his wife throughout the dying process of his mother. “I stood there with them, praying and listening to the stories of their mom. I saw them cry and felt their anguish and sorrow,” he said. “I was struck by the sanctity of the moment and humbled by the privilege to be included in their family’s faith journey. Painful as it was, it was still clearly a grace-filled moment that I was privileged to witness.”
This was also an experience of a deep dependence on God. “When I visit with patients, I have hardly any information about them,” Ramon explained. “I don’t even wear my habit, because it is an interdenominational hospital. I bring nothing but myself, and everything that I am and have become up to that particular moment. Other than my clinical training, I have nothing but the spirit of God to help recognize God himself working in the lives of the patients I visit.”
George’s experience at Children’s Hospital, which he chose specifically because of the new challenges it would place in his way, has given him a much deeper understanding of the ministry of presence, and also a healthy sense of Franciscan humility. “My purpose is not to ‘fix’ a problem when I walk into a patient’s room,” George said. “Rather, the chaplain’s role is simply to ‘walk with’ and support the patient and family by listening, through prayer, and as a link to other resources. I depend on God to help guide the relationship and to help me accurately discern the family’s needs.”
This was highlighted for George when one of the children he had visited for more than a year passed away before her second birthday. “At the funeral, I felt as if the nurses, doctors, social workers, chaplains and I were actually part of the family. We were all incredibly moved by the experience, and the mother expressed a deep sense of gratitude for the support she received throughout the past year.”
But this sense of gratitude and support is not universal. On my first day on the neonatal intensive care unit at Walter Reed, I visited a woman whose child was born prematurely, and who was having a lot of medical issues as a result. When I introduced myself and explained why I was there, she cried “God did this to my baby!” and told me in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want to see me, or any kind of chaplain, again. It was a rattling experience, and one that reminded me that an encounter with God isn’t always easy or pleasant. The soldiers at Walter Reed aren’t the only ones who have done battle. Every patient there has had to struggle with illness and disease and misfortune and the sometimes painful ways God can work in our lives.
Abraham Joseph, OFM, is spending his first semester at Holy Name College with parishioners at St. Camillus in his role as the spiritual assistant for the Legion of Mary and the animator for the French-speaking altar servers. He’s also getting to know his neighbors in Montgomery County by serving as a member of the “United For Common Good” advocacy group.
“Though I’m very busy, I get a lot out of each of my ministries,” said Abraham. “Working in grass-roots community organizing is one of my long-term goals, so I’m excited to be learning the ropes with United For Common Good. It’s a terrific organization initiated by the Catholic Community of Langley Park and St. Camillus Church to protect working, low-income families from being displaced from their homes.”
He’s also been inspired by the men and women he works with at St. Camillus. “I’ve been impressed with how the Legion of Mary and the altar servers are so hungry for knowledge about their faith and the Word of God,” he said. “Working with them has reawakened in me a real appreciation for my faith and a desire to delve even more deeply into scripture.”
Casey Cole, OFM, is also involved in one of the many ministries at St. Camillus. He serves as an instructor for St. Camillus’s English as a Second Language Program, which meets every Tuesday and Thursday evening throughout the school year. “I became a Franciscan to be with and serve those people on the margins,” said Casey. “To see life, as Pope Francis says, not from the center, but from the periphery.”
Not knowing much Spanish himself has been an asset in this sense. “Not being able to communicate with my students as easily as I would like has given me a much better sense of what it is like to enter this country without any knowledge of English,” he explained. “My students and I are forced to communicate in other ways. It’s sometimes a real challenge, which makes me even more aware of what they’ve had to go through. But there’s also a real sense of connection made when we are able to get through to one another. We’re both grateful for each other’s efforts.” Casey also plans to begin working once a week at a homeless shelter later this month.
Dennis Bennett, OFM, serves at Christ House, the nation’s first 24-hour residential medical facility for homeless men in the United States. In 2012 alone, Christ House provided health care to 248 homeless individuals and provided meals to countless others. In addition to the primary illness for which these homeless men and women were admitted, 81 percent had either HIV, or drug or alcohol addiction, or psychiatric illness, and more than 25 percent had three of those diagnoses.
“Those statistics were part of the reason I was drawn to Christ House,” explained Dennis. “I hadn’t had much experience of ministry with people with addictions, or with older African-American men,” the demographic that comprises a large part of Christ House’s clientele. “Preparing dinner and eating with these men each week has often been challenging, but has also been a tremendous blessing, and incredibly eye-opening,” he reported. “Some of what these men have had to go through because of their HIV status or addictions has been just awful. I’m fortunate that I’m able to make a small contribution to their healing and recovery.”
— Br. John, a native of New York City, professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 2012. More information about our student friars is available at http://www.beafranciscan.org/meet-our-student-friars/.