KEYNOTE ADDRESS GIVEN BY ARCHBISHOP DENIS HART AT THE CATHOLIC HEALTH AUSTRALIA CONFERENCE AT THE NOVOTEL, MANLY, N.S.W.,
ON MONDAY, 15TH APRIL 2013 AT 9.30 A.M.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is an honour for me as President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to be with you and encourage you as Stewards of the Mission
in the invaluable work of Catholic Health and Aged Care.
I come with great esteem for the work of Religious Orders who have founded, auspiced and encouraged the Gospel-based work of health and aged care. In the spirit of the Beatitudes, ‘I was sick and you visited me’, we see the whole range of skilled care and advancement of medicine, of compassionate support of the sick and elderly and of new developments in governance in ways appropriate to the modern world. The determination to keep Jesus Christ and his vision for humanity at the centre has inspired religious, their collaborators and the new leaders in Catholic health facilities to place our identity and the spirit of the Gospel at the very centre of all that we do.
It is particularly appropriate that I welcome Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, Monsignor Dariuz Giers and Father Piotr Supierz. Closer to home I rejoice in the presence of my brother Bishops, the President of Catholic Religious Australia, Sister Annette Cunliffe, and the Chair of Catholic Health Australia, Rowena McNally.
In recent years I have been tremendously impressed by meeting with some of the religious and lay leaders of our health services. The dialogue they have had with me and between themselves has convinced me that we have come a long way, inspired by the work of Religious, who have drawn lay people into collaboration and now into leadership in advancing the mission of the Church in health and aged care.
We now enter a new phase where this leadership is strengthened in its identity and vision for the future. It is a joy to me to see that this Conference has set itself the task of developing a ten year plan to support the formation of leaders. I would like to pay tribute to the work done in individual hospitals and aged care services towards formation of leaders. However, I do believe that together into the future there is more that can and should be done.
Recently in Melbourne we have established a Catholic Leadership Centre, which is owned by the Archdiocese, and working in strong cooperation with Australian Catholic University. In education, social work and health care that we do have wonderful leaders. The formation of our prospective leaders for the future and of those who have just stepped up into leadership is something which deserves highest priority. All need a deep awareness of the understanding which is the foundation of all our action.
As we meditate on the great teaching legacy of Pope Benedict XVI and see the clear emphases on love and hope given by Pope Francis, the call of Pope Benedict in his first Encyclical, ‘Deus Caritas Est’
, picks out clear themes for all of us. “We have come to know and believe in God’s love for us.” He makes the point that there is a great love which God offers to human beings. The link between that love and the reality of human love is founded in the person of Jesus Christ.
Such formation needs to encompass a real focus on Christ, a clear understanding of the dignity of each human person and adequate professional development with the backdrop of Christ, sharing his vision for renewed humanity.
Over many years Catholic Health Australia has supported the formation of leaders in health and aged care. Last year the Guidelines for understanding governance of Catholic health and aged care organisations, a joint initiative of the Bishops Conference, Catholic Religious Australia and Catholic Health Australia, was a wonderful initiative to promote deeper understanding of Catholic governance in practice.
Our activity to deepen the awareness and formation of our leaders is in a very realistic context. In some quarters among Catholics there has been a loss of confidence in some aspects of the institutional Church. One very senior retired politician said to me recently that we do have to address aspects of challenge, but we must not lose sight of the essential mission of the Church and the magnificent work in education, health, social work and aged care. These are the cutting edge of our outreach into society and of genuine service, which is deeply appreciated by all people of good will. This places our present situation in a much broader context.
In wider society because of some of our challenges and as the current mood is to give people what they want without regard for the nature of each human being and the principles which underpin relationships in society and indeed the functioning of society itself, there is a perception of a lack of relevance of the voice of the Church to contemporary problems of living. However, I would suggest that to ignore the Church’s voice and our principles is to allow society to drift to its fragmentation.
Our relationship with secular governments is becoming more complex and rather challenged. Because of technological advances and government regulation we need to compete for adequate funding while at the same time maintaining independence and an ethical stance in service provision. We cannot put aside the scrutiny of our activities, which the Royal Commission will provide. However, far from merely seeing the challenges I see this as a time of opportunity.
We are here at this particular time and there has emerged in society a desperate search for meaning and connection. Often healing ministries can be an important voice of the Gospel for so many. While some are critical of the Church they are still embracing of the Gospel in action through Catholic Health and Aged Care. It is of great credit to our religious and to our leaders that while Catholic Health and Aged Care services are in decline and under threat in other countries, the opposite is true in Australia. We continue to grow, to expand the services we offer, particularly to the aged, in a way that governments are not able to sustain. This has strengthened our position and has made us an essential part of what is taking place.
That politician’s comment witnessed to the way in which the value of what you are doing is perceived in the broader society. So healing ministries are of significant importance to the Church at this time. That is why I would say that your leadership, continued commitment to Christ and to Catholic identity, is vital for the positioning of the Church in society.
Sometimes newspaper reports try and suggest that our contribution is a very limited one, when in fact increasingly our facilities are reaching out to those not provided for by government regulation and health care. The compassion that we show goes beyond what can be legislated for or perceived in a narrow, secular mindset.
It is even more important to keep our mission clear as we compete with others on a commercial basis and with government pressures. The natural anxiety about funding in hospitals and aged care services can become too significant a preoccupation. We might even say that our leaders have to meet all the commercial and statutory requirements and on top of it is to be seen an approach and Christian vision. Rather it is the reverse that applies. If we acquire the Christian vision through personal relationship with Christ, then this will motivate us to face the challenges with new energy and dedication and will help us to use our skills to make our facilities an even greater reflection of the love of God that we know ourselves and seek to give to others.
At present perhaps there are fewer people willing to take on governance roles of Catholic organisations once fulfilled by clergy and religious. I have the firm conviction that there are wonderful lay people with great skills, magnificent commitment to God, to faith and to compassionate service, who can be invited to these tasks and formed in them. I affirm the vision and commitment of those who take them on. As witness to that I remember my annual meetings with the leadership of the major health groups. I am tremendously impressed by what we have already. I believe the challenge we have now is to form our oncoming leaders with a similar enthusiasm
It is remarkable that in the transition from religious to lay leadership we have discovered a wealth of talent and giftedness in the people of the Church, enriched by their family life and their love of Christ. What I see is that lay people are inspired by the vision handed on to them and are carrying it further with great generosity, dedication and perception.
In governance the Church’s vision has been helped by the canonical responsibilities and the wisdom of the tradition, which are means to personal deepening and enrichment of the facilities for which they exercise responsibility in accordance with the mind of the Church. The charity that you exercise is a reflection of the mutual love exchanged in the Trinity and an extension of the love of neighbour grounded in the love of God, which is a responsibility for the whole Church.
From the earliest days when Justin Martyr spoke of the Christian celebration of Sunday he mentioned also charitable activity linked to the Eucharist. The great Christian writer Tertullian relates how the pagans were struck by the Christians’ concern for the needy of every sort. Throughout the history of the Church each Diocese and part of the Church had its charitable activity on behalf of the poor and suffering, which is an essential part of our Church from the beginning.
Today when priests are fewer in number, yet enriched by priests joining us from other countries and a gradual small increase in vocations, I want to pay special tribute to the role of lay pastoral practitioners in our facilities where generous Christians with deep spirituality are providing remarkable support to those who are sick and elderly, praying with them, and walking alongside the clergy. The outreach of lay Christians to their brothers and sisters is highly significant. It is for this reason that I wish to say thank you on behalf of the whole Church for all that they do.
As we turn to the future I believe that we are given a great opportunity to continue the love of Christ in a way that the Church has always done associating our sacramental and teaching ministry with an essential outreach to the poor, the sick, the elderly.
These characteristics, I believe, should distinguish us:
- Being faithful to our purpose – from a personal encounter with God’s love comes authentic witness to Christ in action.
- To communicating genuine compassion and care, which sees in the sick or elderly person an image of Christ.
- Provision of appropriate formation to engage more deeply with Jesus in prayer and to learn of the vision and mission of the Church.
- To respond especially to those whose needs are overlooked by society.
- To explore possibilities with other Catholic services in responding to the challenges particularly in the area of formation.
What must identify us is our personal encounter with Christ, our Gospel vision and the mission given by God and the Church to each of us. We cannot underestimate the importance of our individual appreciation of being called and sent: what we do under the grace of God will be effective to an extent perhaps that we did not imagine.
THE PLAN FOR FORMATION
Dear friends, your Conference theme Stewards of the Mission
is highly significant for the future of the Church in coming years. I endorse totally your efforts to develop a ten year plan for formation because I believe that the Church depends on its leaders being well formed to provide Gospel vision, professional competence and spiritual awareness which will carry us forward effectively. Archbishop Zimowski wrote to the Bishops in Holy Week giving the themes for the next three World Days of the Sick, as well as suggestions from the World Day this year, which may be helpful as you consider future plans.
I would also like to pay tribute to the way in which Catholic Health and Aged Care is expanding as a generous response to the needs of the present time. The life, the forward planning, the genuine desire to serve people with Gospel values and professional competence are indicative of the compassion of Christ being shown to those who need it most. Thank you for the hours that you put in to realising that vision because of what the Lord has said in your heart.
THE HOLY FATHER
I was very touched by Pope Francis’ simple appearance on the central loggia of Saint Peter’s, where he prayed with us and asked us to pray for him before giving his blessing. In his first homily to the Cardinals he stressed something which I believe will help all of us, that we walk together, we build up the Church and we profess our faith in Jesus the only Lord. Similarly, on Palm Sunday, redeemed by the cross, we have a serene joy and a commitment through the energy of youth. We too have to take our focus from Christ, our joy from the leadership of the Holy Father and our commitment to building up the Church as part of the work that we are invited to do as leaders in an expanding health and aged care network.
Earlier I mentioned Pope Benedict’s first Encyclical Letter on Christian Love. In that letter he spells out the link between the Eucharist and the charitable activities of the Church. Catholic Health and Aged Care services are an essential activity by which the Church balances the sacramental. It brings the loving care of Christ to people. It is so important then that this relationship between Eucharist and loving professional service be seen as one of the key priorities of this time. With a relationship with Christ, with the vision which Christ has of people and for people, and of the uniqueness of each individual, we will then be motivated for our particular part of the Church’s outreach. This is essential to bring the love of Christ to others - because “we have come to believe in God’s love for us”. This is our inspiration.
Thank you for all that you are doing. We too need to show to the world the reason for the hope that is in us. We have the light the darkness will never overpower, the darkness of doubt or human weakness or sin, because it is the light of Christ which scatters the darkness.
+ Denis J. Hart,
ARCHBISHOP OF MELBOURNE.