March 7, 2014

Familiar Language

I will never forget the first time I heard the joyfulness, regardless of any pain or stress, I heard in the voices of the hospitalized Latino patients I visited when I was a pastoral volunteer. I was able to communicate with them in their native language and when they said “yes, come in” it was a happy invitation from both young and old men and women, many of whom had heart disease, or in some cases were anxiously awaiting possible heart transplants that could save their lives.
The gaze of patients, and often of their friends and family too, is what greets my entry into hospital rooms. They are sometimes sad or joyful or even full of hope. The most worrisome look, however, comes from those who seem to have given up their struggle for life. However, regardless of their individual situations, it is evident that being able to communicate in their native tongue immediately provides some relief which can help put them into an intimate and personal space where their grateful spirits can more easily share their faith in God and the divine healing power that guides the hands of their doctors and nurses to give them back their health. 
Aside from providing warm companionship, my presence in those moments, which I regard as sacred, allows me to bear witness to the patient’s love of God which is often expressed with their heartfelt, simple, honest, and profound statements. They express real prayers that clamor for—and praise—a God that they completely trust; a God to whom they fervently ask to restore their health. A God that they thank for having given them a second chance, a compassionate God to whom they lovingly say “May your will be done, my Lord.”
In face of such an expression of love and faith in God, the prayer of intercession that repeats one after the other the desires of these fervent souls tenderly flows from my lips, humbly affirming that we are before the divine presence, before God who is present now and forever. Before Him, our father and mother, the one who truly heals us, He, who gives us the strength to get better, to continue taking care of ourselves, to go back into the world to embrace the second chance that He has granted us. 

After savoring the silence that emerges spontaneously from these expressions of love and devotion, the final moments of these moving visits are dedicated to paying close attention to the patient’s hopes and future plans after they are discharged. There is more hope and enthusiasm in their speech at this point and I can clearly perceive their desires to recover and to start life again beside their loved ones. 

When I say goodbye with a “God Bless You” I take with me their smiles and their invitations to “come back tomorrow.” I leave knowing that some of them will spend many days recovering or waiting for transplants. When I make a second visit, more fervent prayers surround us. In cases where the transplant has not come on time my prayers turn to the bereaved, who need to continue living, only now with comforting reminders of their loved one who is enjoying the loving embrace of his or her creator. 

Many states in this country have laws that require hospitals to provide the services of professional medical interpreters to nonEnglish speaking patients. However, there is not a similar requirement for hospital chaplaincy services. We hope that someday we will be able to tell patients that there are pastoral visitors, Eucharistic visitors, and chaplains who speak their native languages. To me, it is a service and a work of love-in-Christ that is as important as the medical treatment offered for the physical recovery of any person suffering from illness.