: Healing ministries
Serving the Poor through the Healing Ministries
Mark Raper SJ
Annual Board and Executive Retreat
10 March 2006
"Our greatest challenge at the beginning of the 21st
century is poverty. Our greatest debt is the debt to our brothers
and sisters in the poorest parts of the world. Our greatest hope
is our common humanity and solidarity. And our greatest strength
is our commitment to work together. I would like to think we can
all take that message back to our communities, our institutions
and our Governments ..."
Cardinal Murphy O'Connor
Don't hope on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed-for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea change
on the far side of revenge.
believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Seamus Heaney, Excerpt from The Cure at Troy
At the beginning of our prayer this morning we acknowledged the
Cadigal people of the Eora nation. In this gesture we acknowledge
a people. We also acknowledge a healing that awaits its completion
in our society.
May I acknowledge you all, members of the Sisters of Charity Health
Service which celebrates its first ten years of healing ministry
this year, and anticipates 150 years since the opening of the first
Sisters of Charity facility in Australia, St Vincent's Hospital,
in 1857. Thank you for continuing the long and noble tradition of
public service that began with the first arrival of the Sisters
in the colony in 1838. May I also greet the members of other religious
congregations. Your presence demonstrates the efforts all have taken
towards collaboration in the healing ministry.
With amazement and admiration I examined the governance arrangements
that you have developed. The institutional presence of the Church
in health care has undergone immense change and growth in recent
decades. In all, the not-for-profits provide around 40% of Australia's
private hospital beds. From the 1980s, sponsoring congregations
have realised that the continuance of their health care mission
required uniting into systems with central management and central
financing. As a consequence, we see the co-sponsored systems that
are represented here today. There are two fundamental contexts for
the growth. Government policies promote greater private sector involvement
(eg, rebates on health insurance premiums make hospital care affordable),
and there is a steady growth in and appetite for medical spending.
Rising levels of prosperity and dramatic advances in surgery, medical
technology, and pharmacology fuel this growth. But what makes your
service different from government services, and indeed different
from other not-for-profit health care?
The answer must lie in the mission that you have undertaken. You
have asked me to speak about one aspect of that mission, the service
of the poor. In fact you asked me to speak about poverty in Australia,
but with your permission I speak more about serving those at the
edges of our society. This talk is about your mission, which is
the healing ministry of Christ, a part of the mission of the Church.
Even from a governance point of view a clear mission gives needed
focus. To be distinct as a Catholic health system, we need clarity
of purpose. To collaborate in this common mission we need a shared
vision of the caring and healing ministries. As a not-for-profit
system, clear focus in governance is also indispensable in order
to retain independence from government. Thus a focused mission gives
both clarity and autonomy to governance.
The option for the poor is integral to the mission of the Church
and to the mission of the Sisters of Charity Health Services. In
today's conversation, therefore, we are talking about your fiduciary
responsibilities as directors and key executives, to implement the
mission of the Church, which is to serve the poor. You have this
task regardless of whether you are yourselves Catholic, but in virtue
of the governance roles you hold.
The Sisters of Charity Health Services mission is clearly stated
all over the place, including on your website: "Our mission is to
bring the healing ministry of Christ to all we serve. Our concern
for others, especially those in need, permeates every aspect of
the life and work of our services." The website also states your
vision: "Working together for healthier communities for the love
At the recent World Day of the Sick, health was defined as including
physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual wellbeing.
The healing ministry of Christ is demonstrated in the Gospels:
"I was sick and you cared for me" (Matthew 25). Jesus healed a man
with leprosy; he gave sight to two people who were blind; for one
who was mute, he enabled him to speak; he brought a young girl back
to life; he cured the woman who was haemorrhaging. He cured every
kind of ailment and disease. His words heal the spirit, his touch
heals the body. The two actions go together. It is useless to speak
and to do nothing. Our mission in following the healing ministry
of Christ is to be an approachable source of healing, because we
go out to the sick, we help them to health in all its dimensions:
physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual.
The story of the healing of the leper is told through a crisp,
economic dialogue: "If you will, you can make me clean", the leper
said. "I do will it; be clean", Jesus answers, reaching out his
hand he touched him and healed him of leprosy. (Mark 1:40-42) There
is a movement: first a request, then the response stated with feeling;
then Jesus reaches out and heals; because of this the former leprous
person can be re-integrated into society. Christ is the hand, touching
humanity. Through your roles in this service, you are that hand
of Christ. Your mission is to bring the healing ministry of Christ
to all whom you serve, to bring physical, mental, emotional, social,
spiritual healing. Often the sick also suffer loneliness, poverty
and marginalisation, and long to be re-integrated into society.
Throughout the Old Testament we are presented with a consistent
test of the authenticity of our faith: how we treat the widows,
the orphans, and the strangers in our land (See Isaiah 1:16,17;
Jeremiah 7:5,6). Luke's gospel, with great clarity and compassion
constantly returns to that theme of God's preferential love of the
Clearly many of you have considerable opportunities to meet the
poor through the daily experiences of your institutions. We saw
examples of your work in the film Sea Crossings. You run
diabetes education for indigenous people; HIV/AIDS services; psychiatric
care for the de-institutionalised and homeless; home help services
for the elderly; training in third world countries; public policy;
support for the Asylum Seekers Centre and refugee health; free service
to The Way and Corpus Christi, drug and alcohol counselling. Certainly
a great number of your workers seek employment with the Sisters
of Charity precisely because they share the concerns expressed and
represented by your mission.
My own knowledge of the health ministries is limited. Instead my
reflections are informed by two sets of experiences. First, for
about 20 years I was engaged in the Jesuit Refugee Service, which
is at work in face to face service of refugees in over 50 countries.
Second, in my current role as Australian leader of an international
religious congregation I am learning how to seek partnership in
mission with those who are ready to share the same mission. Our
mission, like yours a mission of the Church, is to seek a faith
that does justice, to serve where the needs are greatest.
With the Jesuit Refugee Service, I was in many front line situations,
such as with the Vietnamese boat people, with Cambodian refugees,
then in Ethiopia, Liberia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, and Colombia.
Our workers, who came from all across the world, accompanied the
refugees, and inevitably this led them to experience a change of
heart. In this experience, we Jesuits learned a new methodology
for guiding our responses to those who suffer poverty and injustice.
During the seventies as a religious body, we had undertaken a strong
commitment for "a faith that does justice". Some wonderful initiatives
were taken. Perhaps because of our training, however, many communities
remained at the discussion stage, endlessly arguing with one another
about definitions of poverty, or the precise meanings of justice.
By contrast, the initiative of Fr Pedro Arrupe, our Superior General
who launched the Jesuit Refugee Service in 1980, drew many of us
into direct contact with refugees. We were not too distracted by
ideological disputes in a world divided ideologically between left
and right. We were moved instead by the refugees themselves, by
our contact with and service among them. That moved us to reflect
on why they suffered such injustice, to analyse the causes and to
seek appropriate responses.
On one occasion in Burundi, planning our programs among the internally
displaced people, with several companions I visited a rural hospital
full to overflowing with the victims of recent attacks. Hundreds,
perhaps thousands of village people were being tended by about four
local sisters, who of course organised the people to help one another.
In one bed I met a young woman whose Achilles tendons had been cut.
In this way the attackers prevented their victims from running away,
so that they could come back and kill all with machetes. This beautiful
young woman had escaped that finality, but she was now crippled
for the rest of her life. The story is ghastly, but I only tell
it in order to give you some sense of my anger, and of the feelings
of our whole team, and of our consequent resolve. We felt what Jesus
must have felt when he was moved to ask his Father for the power
to achieve a miracle. Moved by what we saw, we set up a base in
Burundi for our work in Central Africa which still continues.
Controversy about definitions of poverty does not necessarily lead
us to know the poor. Your workers know what poverty is because they
know the poor. You cannot doubt the experience of a person whose
wounds you dress. If we wish to serve the poor, we must meet them
and know them. If we allow the poor to touch our hearts, there is
no end to what we will undertake together with them and for them.
"The memory is always under orders from the heart", said Antoine
de Rivarol. The Holy Father in his recent Encyclical, "God is Love"
asks that those engaged in the charitable work of the Church receive,
in addition to their professional training, a "formation of the
heart". He speaks of a "heart which sees" where love is needed and
acts accordingly. Without that formation, let us not claim that
our mission is to serve the poor.
The second personal experience out of which I speak is as the leader
of a religious congregation today. Our choice as religious is this:
do we accept our falling numbers and gradually die out, or do we
believe in our mission and find a way to pursue it? Our view is
that there are many needs today, and for that reason we are still
on mission. We are called to serve, so we continue until that vocation
is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God. There are many religious who
don't plan to die out. The reason we can continue, however, is because
there are many lay people, like you, who are willing to share in
that mission. More importantly, you are ready to assume leadership
according to your own vocations as lay people. Further, religious
are more ready and open to enter into partnerships today in order
to continue the services of others that we discern to be urgent
and needed. In our complex world many skills are needed to deliver
effective service. We may have started this collaboration because
our numbers were declining. But we continue it now because we have
learned the rich benefits that flow from our complementarity roles.
The Sisters of Charity Health Service mission to serve the poor
is inspired by the mission of the Sisters of Charity. The Sisters
take a vow of poverty. They embrace poverty, because they follow
Christ poor, because they give without expecting return, and because
it leaves them free. The norm for the Sisters in choosing where
they work is not the interest they have in that place, or the benefit
it will bring them. Their poverty enables them to enter a work of
service without calculation, reservation, self interest, or expectation
of thanks. You lay members of the Sisters of Charity Health Service
are not under a vow of poverty. But can you see the value of this
partnership. You each bring extraordinary riches to the perception
and understanding of a common mission.
For us religious, your role as lay persons in that partnership
is essential. A newly discovered role for religious today is to
help the leadership of lay persons in the Church to grow. All of
our institutions are devoted to a single mission, the healing ministry
of Christ, which implies a service of the poor. Whoever has a position
of responsibility in that organisation will be judged on his or
her effectiveness in fulling that mission. Any CEO in the Sisters
of Charity Health Service, therefore, whether lay or religious,
must also be a "mission leader".
Clear governance structures enable us to focus our mission and
so to work effectively. Further, clear governance arrangements will
protect us so that we can be free of excessive government intervention
and so continue to implement our mission. You more than anyone are
aware that in their relationships with government today, not-for-profits
need clear institutional accountability.
The Church is institutional. What a surprise! That is how we have
purchase in society. Yet if the Church's institutions are indistinguishable
from other services in the market, what is the point? Nonetheless,
institutions have their own logic too. With size and sophistication
comes caution. Yet with ministry comes risk. Therefore the challenge
is to structure our governance in a way that retains the freedom
which mission requires. For this leadership is important.
Books have been written about what you are trying to do, namely
to blend the best practice of corporate governance with the traditions
of religious congregations. The attempts of the Jesuits in this
area have been described by author Chris Lowney in the book Heroic
Lowney, re-interpreting traditional religious language, speaks of
four core leadership pillars: Self-awareness, Ingenuity, Love, and
Heroism. He defines each of these as follows. Self-awareness: understanding
your strengths, weaknesses, values and worldview. Ingenuity: confidently
innovate and adapt to a changing world. Love: Engage others with
a positive attitude that unlocks their potential. Heroism: Energise
yourself and others with heroic ambitions and a passion for excellence.
A recent study 
by the Australian Catholic University on socially responsible indicators
for Church organisations addressed matters analogous to what you
are facing today. The study looked at how such organisations have
made their mission a lived reality, and how they address the tensions
that arise from priorities and values that conflict with the organisation's
mission and values. For making the mission a reality, the study
proposes four strategies:
- Make values and quality central priorities
- Develop an inclusive culture
- Commit to rights, responsibilities and empowerment
- Develop a critically reflective organisation.
The study identified the following as the most common tensions:
- commitment to those in need versus the commitment to financial
- mission values versus the industrial paradigm of work
- mission versus government policies
- competition versus cooperation
- delivery of quality services versus financial accountability
- individual interests versus community interests
- social needs of clients versus requirements of a business case
In its conclusion the study suggested seven key performance indicators
which could help an organisation and its leaders to reflect a socially
responsible role. These are:
- The vision and mission are focussed and owned by all.
- A culture of service, caring and trust as key motivating values.
- The organisation is a learning organisation, and this is valued,
supported, affirmed by its members.
- There is shared leadership and responsibility.
- Justice and equity underpin all policies and practices.
- Stewardship: resources are obtained ethically and allocated
- There is strategic and creative leadership.
You have clearly already absorbed such approaches in many of your
organisations, for example in the Sisters of Charity and Holy Spirit
Health Services report, outlining "Performance areas for mission
in 2006—2008", I noticed the following goals or performance
Proclaiming our mission: Goals:
Facilities ...(are) clearly recognised as part of the healing
ministry of the Catholic Church and are identified with our
Work with others to provide the best possible care to the community
within the resources available to us.
Service of the poor and marginalised/ working for the common
good: Understand and are committed to the needs of the poor
Stewardship and good governance ...
In many ways you have incorporated the five core values proclaimed
on your website: compassion, justice, human dignity, excellence,
In your Social Accountability and Community Benefit Report, I found
the following statement:
"In exercising our stewardship of resources with which we have
been entrusted, we are held social accountable. One of the ways
we are accountable is to organise our facilities to benefit our
communities. We do this not only with the benefits directed primarily
to care for the poor, but also with benefits to the broader community.
In doing this, we fulfil our mission." National Director of Mission
Those who have come closest to poverty are often the most reticent
to talk about it. If you know how terrible are the lives of the
poor, often without hope, with a daily, relentless violence, boredom,
insecurity, dependence, then our conversation can sometimes seem
empty rhetoric. Moreover poverty from one society to another, in
different economies, is quite a different reality. You speak today
principally of your service among the poor within Australia. As
you plan for this, you will surely be led to develop your strategy
of service in other places of need around the world.
Jim Wolfensohn, the Australian who then led the World Bank, spoke
on a visit here in 2004 about how the world responds to poverty
and inequality. He was referring to certain practices in Australia
(in particular to the policy of closing borders as inadequate to
the present and most certainly to the future). What he said could
well be taken as a warning to us also. He said: "The way the world
is dealing with problems of poverty and peace seem to be disconnected...
If you cannot deal with the question of hope or economic security,
there is no way that with military expenditure you can have peace."
Cardinal Murphy O'Connor gave a similar explicit message: "Our
greatest challenge at the beginning of the 21st century is poverty.
Our greatest debt is the debt to our brothers and sisters ...(who
are poor). Our greatest hope is our common humanity and solidarity.
And our greatest strength is our commitment to work together. I
would like to think we can all take that message back to our communities,
our institutions and our Governments..."
Benedict XVI, quoting Pope Gregory the Great, reminds us: "When
we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs,
not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt
The film portraying your service of the poor was entitled "Sea
Crossings". This morning Sr Elizabeth Dodds spoke of her "bridge
crossing". I had contemplated calling this talk "Beach Crossings"
, borrowing from
the title of a book by historical anthropologist, Greg Dening. Professor
Dening takes beaches as a metaphor for living on the edges, for
what happened before and what will happen after, for the place between
arriving and departing, a place of crossings. Many places within
your institutions have that feeling. You are constantly meeting
people who have come to a limit in their lives. They have only just
made it to Emergency, or they have just been informed of their terminal
condition. Like those who are poor, they do not elect to be there.
Many of the people whom you serve have never been elsewhere but
at the edges, and that is where you have to go in order to meet
You make your plans, three year and five year plans. But as Eugène
Ionesco said, "You can only predict things after they have happened".
So let us get in and make them happen. When you engage with the
poor, as you do so well, the world will be revealed in wholly new
perspectives, the perspectives of "hearts that see".
May I wish you much encouragement on the path on which your brave
chairman, Tony Killen, is now leading you. As John Henry Newman
said, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt".
Chris Lowney, Heroic Leadership, Best practices from a
450-year old company that changed the world, Loyola Press, Chicago,
Socially Responsible Indicators: A Framework for Action for Service
Organisations, 2005. Undertaken by the Flagship for Creative & Authentic
Leadership in association with the School of Education NSW, ACU,
Strathfield Mount St Mary Campus, PO Box 2002, Strathfield NSW 2135.
Beach Crossings, Greg Dening, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne,
Mark Raper SJ AM is Provincial of the Australian Jesuits. He
worked for twenty years with refugees, serving as International
Director of Jesuit Refugee Service from 1990 to 2000.
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