11 February 2009
The Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes

Dearly Beloved of the Diocese of Lake Charles,

As we conclude the 150th Anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11, 2009, the World Day of the Sick, it would seem appropriate to write to you regarding the Church’s consistent effort to serve the ill and suffering among us: “When did we see you ill…and visit you” (Mat 25:39)? It is without question that Catholic Healthcare has been ongoing in one form or another through the centuries.

In the Gospels, we read that Jesus was continually healing the sick in His public ministry. The man full of leprosy in the Gospel of Luke fell prostrate before Jesus saying, “‘Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.’ Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do will it. Be made clean’”(Lk 5:12, 13). Jesus’ heart was moved with compassion for his brothers and sisters who were suffering. As the Mystical Body of Christ (1Cor 12:13), we too should be filled with God’s mercy for those of us who suffer due to disease and other illnesses: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it” (1 Cor 12:26). 
The Church has always devoted herself to providing care, in one form or another, for those who had none. Hospices were created by religious to aid weary travelers. Orphanages and Soup Kitchens were founded to contribute to the well-being of men, women, and children who found themselves with nothing, often not even the love of a family. Hospitals were established to procure immediate medical care for those who were ill and dying. In fact, the first Catholic hospital in the United States was established by the Ursuline sisters in 1728. In the United States, religious women in particular devoted themselves to the care of the sick. The dedication of these religious sisters was instrumental in founding the hospital system we are familiar with today.
 “In the early twentieth century, advances in medical knowledge…and the development of new technologies…combined to produce a demand for standardization in both medical education and health care.” In response to these advances, Fr. Charles B. Moulinier, SJ began working toward the formation of an association of Catholic hospitals. His efforts, along with the invaluable work of the  Sister’s of St. Joseph Carondelet, ensured that Catholic health care in the United States would contribute to the growing healthcare needs of the nation. For example, “Between 1884 and 1915, Catholic hospitals nearly tripled some 200 to almost 600.”

Currently, “there are Catholic health care systems and facilities present in all 50 states providing acute care, skilled nursing, and other services including hospice, home health, assisted living and senior housing.” Catholic systems also provide a community benefit, which includes charity care, programs and activities such as community health improvement, health professions education and research. They also work with government sponsored programs.

Although there are numerous Catholic health systems, Christus Health Care System would be the most familiar to us in Southwest Louisiana with Christus St. Patrick Hospital being located in Lake Charles. It is part of the vision and goals of this health care system to expand care for the uninsured through social service resources. Concerning charity care, Christus Health System waives charges based on federal poverty guidelines for uninsured patients and they offer discount care for those whose medical expenses will deplete their resources. Nationwide during 2008, Christus Health System alone delivered $249,998,990 of unpaid Medicare, which, with the community benefit, totaled $488,628,990. In Southwest Louisiana the total for unpaid Medicare was $34,625,784; it totaled $45,417,536 with community benefit.

As Christians, we should seek to be in solidarity with the 47 million people who lack basic healthcare insurance coverage, nine million of whom are children. Our vision for Catholic health care systems is one that promotes the well-being and respect for the dignity of every person. In this worthy endeavor of providing for the well-being of others, we can draw confidently from our long tradition of Catholic Social teaching.

If we first look to Christ our Lord in our daily lives, most importantly in prayer, we will influence and aid the nation in providing physical and spiritual care. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mat 25:40).

May we respond generously to the call of Christ to love God and neighbor through the virtues of justice and charity. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you and your families, as I remain

Devotedly yours in our Lord,

+Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles