Catholic nurses view their work as vocation, healing ministry - Catholic Courier
Nurses discuss patient care at SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City in 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo by Nick Oxford/Reuters)

Nurses discuss patient care at SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City in 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo by Nick Oxford/Reuters)

Catholic nurses view their work as vocation, healing ministry

Nursing is more than a profession for Jamie Shephard, a licensed practical nurse in the Buffalo area.

Rather, Shephard’s nursing work is a way to live out his strong Catholic faith. When he and other nurses, doctors and health-care professionals care for patients, they’re extending Jesus’ care, love and compassion to those people, he said.

“(We) have an opportunity to enter into the healing ministry of Jesus, to be the continuation of his healing presence in the world,” Shephard explained.

Catholic nurses, healthcare professions are united by shared mission, professional organizations

Shepherd is not alone in this belief. In early August, he was one of more than 200 nurses who traveled to Doylestown, Pa., for the 2022 World Congress of Catholic Nurses, which drew participants from around the globe.

Conducted every four years, the world congress is a gathering of members of the International Catholic Committee for Nurses and Medico-Social Assistants, which is known by the French acronym CICIAMS. Founded in 1933 in Lourdes, Frances, CICIAMS brings together various organizations of Catholic nurses and other health-care professionals from around the world and works closely with the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, as well as the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, and the Vatican Secretariat of State.

One of CICIAMS’ member organizations is the National Association of Catholic Nurses, USA, or NACN-USA, which hosted the Doylestown event at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The World Congress of Catholic Nurses had not taken place in the United States since 1990, according to Maria Arvonio, president-elect of the NACN-USA

“All the quadrants — Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas — compete to host it. It’s a great honor that the U.S. was chosen to host it,” said Arvonio, who also served as vice chair of the committee planning the August event.

Cardinal Turkson: Catholic nurses, medical professionals practice a ‘noble ministry’

The theme of the 2022 world congress was “United in mission. United in faith.” Speakers at the three-day event included Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who has become an internationally known speaker and author, and Cardinal Peter Turkson, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

In his remarks after the congress’ opening Mass Aug. 2, Cardinal Turkson invited the Catholic nurses and medical professionals present to come together to “sustain and fortify each other in your profession.” The cardinal said the fragile and vulnerable nature of human beings provides an opportunity for nurses and medical professionals to practice a “noble ministry or profession.”

“They are people who have succeeded in transcending their vulnerabilities to be able to provide antidotes and solutions to those who suffer,” Cardinal Turkson said.

Organization provides resources, support system for Catholic nurses

Catholic nurses do this because they view nursing as a mission rather than a profession, remarked Joanne Critelli, a Rochester nurse who is spearheading local efforts to start a Rochester chapter of NACN-USA.

“Nursing, we believe, is not just a job. It’s a ministry. You’re the heart, the hands, the feet of Christ,” Critelli said.

Although neither Rochester nor Buffalo have designated chapters of the NACN-USA, Critelli and Shephard both belong to the organization as individual members, along with a handful of other local Catholic nurses. The NACN-USA’s website includes a wealth of resources for Catholic nurses who want to enrich their spirituality or learn more about church teachings as they relate to issues they might encounter in their work, Critelli said.

“It’s where nursing, ministry and Catholic mission meet. It’s the nurses’ voice in life and their nursing, and support comes to them in their profession from the National Association of Catholic Nurses. You’ve got to be supported in some way,” she said.

Support from fellow members of NACN-USA has been invaluable, especially during the last few years of unprecedented challenges as the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, Shephard said. Events such as the World Congress of Catholic Nurses and smaller NACN-USA events provide opportunities to form friendships with others who view their work in the health-care field as a vocation.

“You just meet people from all over the world, and very quickly it becomes a faith family,” Shephard explained. “We know that we have brothers and sisters from all over the world who have become friends and part of that faith family that share in this great healing ministry of Jesus.”

Tags: Health
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