Do You Know St. Camillus de Léllis, Patron Saint of Nurses and Those Who Care for the Sick?

St. Camillus’ feast day, 14 July, is also the International Day of the Sick, a special day to pray for health workers and the sick.

Newsroom (20/07/2023 09:00, Gaudium Press) On 14 July we celebrated the liturgical memorial of St. Camillus of Léllis, Patron Saint of the sick and protector of hospitals. St. Camillus’ feast day is the International Day of the Sick. More than a commemoration, this is a day to remember all the sick and pray for them, asking for the intercession of St. Camillus.

It is also a day to ask for improvements in the health service to the population, demanding from governments new hospitals and new beds to care for the sick. We also ask, through the intercession of St. Camillus, that more doctors and nurses be made available to care for the sick. Let us ask that the young people of today may feel called to embrace the vocation of medicine, for medicine, like all other vocations, is a call from God – and the person called must give a sincere and mature “Yes” to God, just like any other vocation.

On this day dedicated to St. Camillus de Léllis, we pray for the entire Camillian community, a religious order that follows in the footsteps of its founder, St. Camillus. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit that there will be no lack of young people willing to embrace the Camillian vocation and care for the sick, and that the Camillian Order will continue to follow the legacy left by its founder.

Caring for the sick and supporting their families

Caring for the sick is extremely important, because it is at this time of fragility that the sick person needs support, a word of comfort and hope. At the same time that we attend to the sick person, we attend to the family member, who is with the sick person – often the family member is the one who needs the most care, because they suffer together with the sick person and especially when the sick person is in a serious condition.

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For this reason, the volunteers of the pastoral care of the sick who help to care for the sick in hospitals are extremely important because, in addition to caring for the sick, they provide support to family members. Pastoral care workers pray with the sick and their families, talk to them and, in some cases, if authorised, administer the Eucharist. They do the screening, and if the sick person wishes to go to Confession, the priest goes to him and hears his Confession. May we strengthen the Health Ministry in our parishes to care for the sick and may we be “Good Samaritans” today, following the example of St. Camillus.

On this date dedicated to St. Camillus de Léllis and the International Day of the Sick, let us pray that all the sick may be respected in their dignity and may be welcomed in a dignified and respectful manner in hospitals and that they may not be forgotten by doctors, nurses, and especially by the Pastoral Care of the Sick and clergy. In recent years, the number of sick people has increased greatly, whether in hospitals or at home. These are brothers and sisters who need the support of the Pastoral Care Centre. Today, more than ever, the Church needs to be present in hospitals, bringing the message of salvation.

A brief history of St Camillus de Léllis

St. Camillus was born on 25 May, 1550, in the village of Bucchianico, Chieti, in southern Italy. The son of a noble and traditional family, St. Camillus was born when his parents were already of advanced age. His mother was called Camilla Compelli. She was a good Christian and took care of the household. His father, João de Léllis, was a military career man who spent a lot of time away from home. Camillus’ parents were very happy with the arrival of their son, despite their advanced age. Because his mother was sixty years old, the birth was very risky, but Camillus was born a healthy baby.

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Camillus grew up with his father absent due to his military career. He was raised and educated by his mother. She taught him Catholic and Christian precepts, for his mother had great faith. When St. Camillus was 13 years old, his mother died. He was left to live with his father, who had an unstable life due to his military career – he was a good Christian, but he had an addiction to gambling, something which was bad for his son.

At the age of 14, St. Camillus entered the military as a soldier. It was not really his will; it was his father who put him in because he thought St. Camillus was rebellious and not given to study. However, he was a good soldier and had a good physical structure for manual labour. At the age of 19, Camillus also lost his father and was left with a complicated financial situation, since the only inheritance he received were some weapons, a dagger and a sword.

Camillus volunteered in the Venetian army and in this service he witnessed what life was like for the dying sick who lived with various diseases. At this time Camillus had to live with an ulcer that appeared on his foot, which caused him financial hardship. Like his father, Camillus was attracted to the worldly life, developing profane habits and becoming addicted to gambling.

Conversion of St. Camillus and foundation of the Brotherhood of Volunteers for the Sick

In 1570, at the age of twenty, Camillus had an encounter that would change his life: he met a young Franciscan friar and was attracted by the charism of St. Francis of Assisi. He asked to join the Franciscan Order, but his application was not accepted because of the ulcer on his foot.

Diagnosed with an incurable tumour and with no money to care for himself, Camillus decided to go to Rome to seek help at the Santiago hospital. There, he offered to work as a nurse’s assistant while caring for his illness. Living in various situations in the hospital, he began to feel in his heart that God was calling him to a greater mission and that it would be a way of sanctification for him, to serve the sick as if he were serving Christ.

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Camillus built a beautiful friendship with St. Philip Neri, who guided him to resume his studies. In 1584, at the age of 34, he was ordained a priest. He felt ever more strongly in his heart the desire to serve the sick and needy. So he founded the Brotherhood of Volunteers of the Sick to care for the sick, poor and miserable. Many men, with the same desire as St. Camillus, joined the call – and the group grew into an Order of Volunteers for the Sick.

Congregation raised to the rank of religious order

In 1591, the congregation was elevated by the Apostolic See to the rank of a religious order and was known as the Order of Ministers of the Sick. St. Camillus was Superior of the Order for 20 years and taught the brothers the care and zeal that should be given to the sick. Even with the tumour in his foot, he worked hard until his strength was exhausted. He died on 14 July 1614 in Rome at the age of 64. On 29 June 1746, the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, the then Pope Benedict XIV canonised Camillus de Léllis. One of the miracles that proved his canonisation was that the ulcer on his foot disappeared as soon as he died.

Let us learn from St. Camillus’ love and care for the sick. The sick need attention and our prayers. May the Church continue to be the face of Christ’s mercy to all the sick. Let us ask St. Camillus for health and protection for us and our family.

By Cardinal Orani João Tempesta, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro (RJ)

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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