This year’s pastoral care conference took place in Addlestone on the 7th of March. Members of staff and sisters from our three homes in England were invited by Sr Isabel Canton, Head of Pastoral Care, to take part of the annual meeting, led by Father Martin Ashcroft, from the Josephite Community and Sr Isabel Canton.
The importance of words and body language
The first talk was a reflection of the importance of words and non-verbal communication when we talk to others, specifically to our residents.
“Words can destroy people or lift them up”; and the spirit behind this words is what matters the most. We have to be very careful with using bad words in a bad mood, because once something is said, it cannot be unsaid. It is important to be kind and compassionate to one another: “a gentle word, a kind look, a good-natured smile can work wonders and accomplish miracles.”
Due to our pace of life and our own concerns, it’s sometimes easy to forget that everything we do has an impact on somebody else. When working with the elderly in our homes, we should always keep in mind that we might be the only persons they speak to during the day, so we have to remember that “we may speak the only positive words they hear” during the day, and that “a few nice words can help a person a lot more than we think”.
However, body language is even more significant than words. Body movements, facial expressions, voice tone, modulation, pauses, etc. are the most important part of our speech. So we should “treat every person with kindness and respect, and remember to show compassion to others.”
Hence the need of pastoral care in our care homes, as it involves the active support and affirmation of others. Let’s take time to care and to encourage someone every day.
“Have a real affection for all those entrusted to your care. Faults and failings of all sorts, ingratitude, insolence, arrogance and even hate do not extinguish the love that God has for sinners; so should it be with you.”
“Always listen politely to whoever is speaking, and never interrupt rudely or inappropriately. One must also know when to speak and when to remain silent; how to judge when it is wise to concede a point; how to show deference; and how to respond to criticism without animosity. At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said nor did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
Nowadays, Pastoral Care focus is much more inclusive involving the social, mental, emotional, spiritual health of the individual, and can therefore be rightly described as being holistic in its approach.
Healing and care for the sick – physically, psychologically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually – must be a priority in our communities just as it was for Jesus – the compassionate shepherd. Jesus healed wherever he went. His heart was always filled with mercy and compassion for all those who were suffering in any way. He reached out to sinners and saints, to young and old, to rich and poor.
Just talking, or a gentle touch, can be enough to open the way to a blessing or a deeper conversation
Those who care for the elderly, especially those fail -mentally and physically- must be mindful that the elderly and frail also minister to us. We need to create a sense that the elderly and frail embody, in a real way, the presence of the suffering Christ in our midst. They can reach out to support the community through their redemptive suffering, their prayer for others and gifts of the Spirit.
An initial pastoral encounter requires great sensitivity. The role of the visitor is to listen.We begin where people are at, taking a natural approach, letting them move freely towards us, without pressing them and without letting our own defensive responses get in the way.
Just talking, or a gentle touch, can be enough to open the way to a blessing or a deeper conversation. A minister of care must be a person who deeply cares about the other with the same attitude of compassion and mercy which Jesus showed to others.
Our Pastoral Care Plan
During Sr Isabel opened the last part of the conference with a question: “Do we really give the residents the time to communicate?”
It is very important not to limit caring to only dealing with physical issues. As said before, caring has a holistic dimension. It consists of paying attention to the questions and concerns of the whole person, to the social implications of their illness, to the psychological feelings that accompany the crisis and the spiritual resources available to the person in responding to the illness.
The Constitutions of the Sisters Hospitallers in number 64 specifies very clearly what Pastoral Care is about when it says:
- We take Christ to the sick and frail and, as we care for their physical needs we transmit the love of his heart to them.
- We offer them spiritual help in accordance with their beliefs and capacity.
- We pray with them, for them, and in their name.
- We help them encounter Christ in their life of pain and suffering.
- We accompany them in a special way during their last illness, helping them to accept death with faith and hope.