Spirituality of the Ministers of the Sick (Camillians)

“God loved us first, and our wish is to respond to that love” (1 John 4: 10). John intimates that God is the initiator inviting our response. We didn’t earn that love nor deserve it. It was freely given just as Jesus’ giving of his life for us was freely given.  

St. Camillus de Lellis, the founder of the Ministers of the Sick (Camillians), didn’t earn God’s love either. But he was made the object of God’s love and mercy. He experienced the depths of degradation with his gambling addiction but was rescued by God through Mary on the feast of her Purification (February 2, 1575). His spiritual conversion, his spiritual rebirth as he called it, was a profound experience of how God loved him first. Consequently, he became the instrument of mercy for others. The most unfortunate became his focus; sinners, the sick, and the dying, the most in need, the suffering. His only purpose was to serve the crucified Christ in the person of Christ Himself in His “most distressed disguise.” Camillus called them his “Lords and Masters.”  

Camillus was moved by the unconditional mercy of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25 -37) and was inspired by the words Jesus expresses in Matthew 25: 36: “I was ill, and you cared for me.” He was humbled by the example of Christ’s love when He washed the feet of the disciples at the last supper. And all of this was contemplated by Camillus in the Crucifix whose image assured him in a mystical moment that it was Jesus Himself who initiated the founding of the Ministers of the Sick and not him. And since Camillus felt that the highest human image in matters of love and mercy is that of a mother, he proposed that we should “care for the sick as a mother cares for her only sick child.”

No doubt, he had his earthly mother in mind. Her unconditional merciful love for him, despite his delinquent behavior early in his life, caused much remorse in his heart for the rest of his adult life. He continued to apologize to her long after she died.

And at the foot of the crucified Christ, we find Mary, the Mother of Mercies, the Refuge of Sinners, for it was she who accompanied Camillus back to God. Consequently, the Camillians developed a particular love for the Mother of our Redeemer and declared her “Queen of the Ministers of the Sick.” She was faithful by saying ‘yes’ to the Incarnation, cooperating in the work of salvation, and a mother’s compassion for the suffering. She is the model of spiritual life and service and helps us with her maternal love. “Poor me, Camillus used to say with gratitude, “if there had not been so tender a Mother in heaven.”

The examples above lead us to conclude that Camillus’ response to God’s love was a “Spirituality of Mercy, that is, to bear witness to the infinite love of Christ for the sick.” A major lesson gleaned from this, as stated above, comes from the example of Camillus himself: that God’s mercy to us should move us to show mercy to others, especially the poor, those who are sick as well those who share our charism. Finally, let us be mindful of and guided by the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: 40: “Whatever you did for these least brethren of mine you did to me.”

-Brother Mario Crivello, M.I.

The First Camillian Community in the United States

In September of 1919, the Superior of the German Province of The Order of St. Camillus received a letter from Rev. James Durward of the diocese of St. Paul, Minnesota. Father Durward offered to donate the Order a beautiful spot of scenic splendor called Durward’s Glen, near Baraboo, Wisconsin. With the offer came the condition that a hospital would be built on the site. The German Province sent Father Michael Mueller to America in the fall of 1921 to look into the matter. If God’s Province had not taken things in hand, there might still be no Camillian facility in the United States.

For on the voyage to America, Father Michael Mueller met the Most Rev. Sebastian Messmer, Archbishop of Milwaukee, who invited Fr. Mueller to visit Milwaukee if the project in Durward’s Glen proved to be impractical. Impractical it was. Fr. Mueller found the Durward’s Glen site to be too remote for a hospital, and he instead returned to Milwaukee, where he accepted the pastorate of Fussville temporarily owing to the illness of the pastor.

It was not parish work for which the Camillian had come to America. But you cannot go to a foreign country on Monday and build a hospital on Tuesday, not even in America.

On February 12, 1923, however, Fr. Mueller initiated his plan by purchasing a house on the south side of Milwaukee on 21st Avenue. He had only $850 to his name, and Miss Merkalback was asking $8,000 for the home. But God does seem to provide.

City clergy, religious institutions, and Catholic laypeople came to the rescue and Fr. Mueller was able to purchase the house for use as a monastery. He then bought a second, adjacent house which he and other German Camillians opened as a small hospital for the old and incurable.

The early community was beset with financial problems. One day after having paid the interest and other urgent bills, the treasury was exhausted to the extent that not one penny remained. In the afternoon, when a lady brought twenty-five dollars, the proceeds of a card party, the house resounded with shouts of joy, as if they had inherited a million.

The request for rooms in the small hospital became so numerous that the community decided to build a new and more modern hospital.

A New Presence in Los Angeles, California

The USA Camillian Delegation is pleased to announce a new Camillian presence in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in the state of California. On August 14th, 2019, Fr. Pedro Tramontin, the Provincial Delegate of the USA Camillian Delegation, traveled to Los Angeles together with Frs. Peter Pham (From the Vietnam Camillian Delegation) and Renato Prado (From the Brazilian Province). There they met with the regional Bishop Alex Aclan and Monsignor Jim Harley, the vicar for clergy in the Archdiocese, to sign the agreement between the USA Camillian Delegation and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The two Camillian Priests officially began their ministry at Our Lady of Peace Parish on August 15th, coinciding with the feast day of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They shall serve as parish assistants to Fr. Manuel Baeza, the Administrator of the Parish, for one year, at which point the agreement will be revisited.

Situated in the San Fernando Valley, the Our Lady of Peace Parish serves a diverse community, north of the City of Los Angeles. The church was first built in 1937 and officially established in 1944. The Parish comprises parishioners of various ages, ethnicities, cultures, and from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. The various languages in which the masses are offered, which includes English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese testifies to the multicultural make-up of the Parish

The Our Lady of Peace Parish offers a variety of services to both parishioners and the community. First, the Parish is home to Our Lady of Peace School. Formally erected in 1954, the school teaches children from kindergarten to 8th grade in the school building next to the church.

The Parish is actively involved in charitable work within the community. This includes organizing food pantry for those in need and the homeless and financially supporting the formation of seminarians. The Parish is home to a vibrant youth group. Composed of children of all ages, the youth group offers a place for young Catholics to continue in their faith formation along with their peers. The group is active in both the church and the community and allows the youth to worship and serve together. The future of the country and the Catholic Church belongs to them. Journeying with them in faith, hope, and love is a ministry of accompaniment.

The presence of the Camillians in the Los Angeles area offers many opportunities for them to spread the charism of God’s mercy, compassion, and tenderness for those who are sick, poor, the weak and marginalized. The Camillian presence in Los Angeles brings the charism of the Order to a younger, multicultural population. The Camillians ministering in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will be able to build up the Local Church and enrich it with their presence.

The promotion of vocations will take priority through active engagement of the Camillians with the youth, young professionals, and others who may have vocational calling to the religious life. Promoting the Lay Camillian Family and mobilizing resources for the international interventions, programs, and services of the Camillian Disaster Service USA can also be undertaken as part of the initiatives of the Camillians in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. As such, the Camillian USA Delegation serves a broader spectrum of those in need, in ways that may be appealing to those who seek meaning and purpose to their lives and have a vocational calling.

-Fr. Pedro Tramontin

The Story of St. Camillus

A Mothers Dream

At nearly 60 years of age, Camilla Compelli de Laureto had a dream. She dreamed that the son she was carrying would one day wear the emblem of a cross upon his chest, leading other men that wore the same emblem. The thought of this cross instilled great fear in her, as the cross was used in those times to signify men that had been condemned to death on the gallows. With a deep-seated fear of her son’s future and the band he would one day lead, she gave birth to her son, Camillus, on May 25th, 1550. The joyous birth was unfortunately overshadowed by the lingering images his mother took away from her dream. The saintly woman died with anguish in her heart when her son was only thirteen.

Growing to become a strapping 6’6” tall, young Camillus was the terror of his townspeople. He followed his father Giovanni de Lellis, an army captain, into the adventurous and romantic career of a mercenary on an Italian peninsula wracked with wars, from fighting with or against the French and skirmishes with the Turk’s.

The Fighter

Like many risk-seeking young soldiers, he became a gambler. Although his career was often lucrative, he just as often found himself in dire financial straits, even going so far as to literally lose his shirt. After one military engagement, wounded above the ankle in a skirmish with the Turks, he limped along the road back to his hometown with his father, who took ill along the way. They received care, but Camillus’ wound did not heal, and the infection moved into his foot. His father died, and the young giant, now on his own, fell in with a companion who liked gambling and rioting quite as much as Camillus did.

The pair of them had fallen on hard times, so much so that Camillus stopped at a local church to receive alms of food for himself and his companion along with the destitute from the parish. A devout local man seeing him there inquired why such a strapping young man should require alms, and Camillus answered that his troop had disbanded, and he was down on his luck. The man asked Camillus to visit his home for some hospitality, and he would find him employment.

His suffering urged him to take his acquaintance up on the offer, but his companion mocked him, wondering why big, bad Camillus would ever want to cast off his freewheeling lifestyle. Camillus began to follow his companion out of town, but upon meeting two monks riding the other way on mules, he decided to turn about and abandon his companion.

Awakening

Camillus went to work at a Capuchin monastery in Manfredonia, helping them with construction projects and driving their mules to trade goods. On one of these occasions, he went to get some wine, and a priest had a spiritual conversation with him that caused Camillus to become inflamed with the desire for a spiritual epiphany. He asked to be taken in among the Capuchin Franciscans but was rejected as he did not have the proper education. The year was 1575, Camillus was 25 years old.

Camillus found himself in Rome, where his festering wound would still not heal. He was admitted into the famous Hospital of St. James, where he encountered Father Philip Neri, later also canonized. With no other means of paying for his treatment, Camillus began attending to the sick and the dying, both physically and spiritually.

Yet, unfortunately, Camillus still gambled and fought. His actions led to his discharge from St. James when he had healed to some degree. Camillus decided to find his way into the Jesuits and began studies with youth now far younger than him. He was teased mercilessly by his classmates, but he accepted this as he worked toward his education. The way now seemed clear, but his wound reopened and caused him to seek medical treatment again.

The Giant

A chastened Camillus found his way back to the hospital with the help of religious friends, who gave him a letter of introduction to help smooth his way. He was received with mixed feelings.

He was eventually given charge of the minor staff and began to introduce reforms in patient treatment, pursuing their care with great zeal. Gradually, it came to him that this in itself was a religious calling, and he thought he might try to organize and lead a group of men to help him spread his reforms and dedicate themselves explicitly to the care of the sick and the dying for God, not money.

At the age of 34, he became a priest and assembled a group of religious and lay followers who began to practice his methods and teachings in Rome. The movement started to spread. They called themselves the “Servants of the Sick.”

In 1586 with the Pope’s permission, the members of Camillus’ Order wore a red cross on their black cassocks and capes. This symbol distinguished them from other groups and also displayed their source of inspiration to those they cared for. When asked why, Camillus stated that this sign was to frighten the devil, for he continued to have a warlike disposition when it came to serving God. Camillus emphasized to his volunteers that the hospital was a House of God, a garden where the voices of the sick were music from heaven. During a particularly trying time, Camillus felt anxious about his efforts. He then experienced another Spiritual Epiphany when the words, “This is my work, not yours,” rang loud and clear from his crucifix, and he boldly continued his life’s work.

In 1591 Pope Gregory XIV gave this ‘company of good men’ the status of an Order with the name ‘Order of the Ministers of the Infirm’, a name chosen by the Founder to indicate that his members should have Christ as their model, who said ‘I have not come to be served, but to serve and to give life’.

Legacy

Camillus de Lellis died on July 14th, 1614, delighted to have seen his ministry spread throughout Italy. Benedict XIV, in recognition of the Founder’s spiritual heroism and in view of the many miracles obtained through his intercession, declared him blessed in the year 1742. Three years later, the same Pope added him to the list of the Saints.
Leo XIII, in the year 1886, proclaimed Saint Camillus patron of all hospitals and the sick, with Saint John of God. Pius XI, in 1930, declared him to be the Model and Protector of all who nurse the sick.

The Order of the Ministers of the Infirm began in August 1582 when St. Camillus was inspired to create a company of pious and good men who would serve the sick, voluntarily and out of love for God, with that same love that a mother has for her only child. The wish of Camillus was to replace the officials of a large hospital in Rome who ‘because their service was not motivated by authentic love did not do their duty towards the sick.’

Today the Ministers of the Infirm are known throughout the world as the Camillians. This Order is made up of priests and brothers who, as religious, have the same rights and obligations within the Community.

The Order does not exclude activity in parishes or teaching but, as its Constitution lays down, a religious should dedicate himself ‘before anything … to the practice of works of mercy for the sick’ and ensure that ‘man is placed at the center of care in the world of health.’

The members of the Order profess the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, and the fourth vow, to consecrate their lives ‘to service to the poor and infirm, even at risk to their own lives.

Prayer is Breathing

While ministry appears to be an important part of the development of my religious identity, there is no denying that my prayer life serves as the core of my call to religious life. It is the powerhouse that sustains my religious journey. It is unimaginable to claim spiritual well-being and being centered without basing it on one’s prayer life. It is my conviction that prayer is a lifeline for anyone who wants to dedicate one’s life to religious life. At least this is my personal experience for almost 25 years now as a religious member of the Order of Saint Camillus.

In emphasizing the importance of prayer in the life of a religious, it is also essential to reflect on one’s style of praying. For many years, one of the challenges that I have consistently discussed with my Spiritual Director was the feeling that I was not praying enough or that I kept looking for better ways of praying. I tried many styles of praying and had received advice on how to pray and when to pray. Still, I was hungry to learn about the style of praying that would feed my spiritual needs fully.

I am particularly talking about personal prayer time. It is praying alone. Praying personally is a separate practice from the communitarian one that each Religious has the duty to participate in.

I believe in the importance and value of Community Prayers. Praying with my brothers is a place where I feel the relational aspect of my religious life. Praying together leads me to feel that I belong to something bigger than my own vision of ministry and understanding of Religious life.

Eight years ago, in my search for the “right style of praying,” I came across a meditation practice. One day, a close friend of mine asked if I was interested in attending a workshop on Meditation and Buddhism based on the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk. For five consecutive Tuesdays in the evening, I attended a two-hour presentation and exploration on the basics of sitting and walking meditation. I learned to sit and just pay attention to my breath. It was not easy at the outset. I felt restless and had difficulty relaxing and being mindful of what I was feeling, thinking, and sensing just in the moment. I had to learn to befriend the “monkeys in my mind.” Little by little, I began to feel relaxed and focused. This practice led me to an experience of being centered and grounded and to a personal practice that I continue to utilize.

I have developed a habit of starting my workday in meditation. It is my conviction that before I can pay attention to any ministry needs of others, I first need to pay attention to my own needs. Praying through meditation addresses those needs. It is my experience that when I miss my daily meditation and prayer, I end up feeling scattered, and my day feels incomplete. Praying is like breathing. Praying in whatever style is the key nourishment for anyone who wants to bring spiritual healing to others.

Father Jojo Orosa, MI

Do I Need To Be A Medical Professional To Become A Member Of The Order of St. Camillus?

“The Order of the Ministers of the sick (the order of St. Camillus), formed by its nature of religious priests and brothers, has as its purpose, the complete service of the sick in the totality of their being” (Constitution #43). Anyone who reads this article of the constitution or makes a serious study of the of life and ministry of St. Camillus, might think that in order to join the Order of St. Camillus one would need to be a nurse, doctor, or other health professional. However, it’s worth noting that St. Camillus himself was not any of these, but he cared with all his heart for those he saw who were sick and in need of care.

The modern understanding of health as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as a “State of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.  This definition provides us with a wider perspective of the “complete service of the sick and the totality of their being”. Traditionally, the Order has always been fully focused on its God-given charism giving special emphasis on the spiritual care of the sick. Spirituality being the most important aspect of human life plays a significant role in times of sickness, pain, vulnerability and even death. Moreover, health care is related to various aspects of human life which naturally leads us to a holistic approach to sickness placing the sick person at the center of care. This approach, consequently, generates a variety of ministries which do not require medical training.  

Many of our priests and brothers are not medical professionals.  The Order, however, runs numerous healthcare institutions and health-related institutions, such as nursing homes, care centers, house for destitute, addiction centers, counseling centers, places providing care of physically and mentally challenged persons, orphanages, and rehabilitation centers around the world. Today, in modern times, the Camillians are ministering also in areas where disasters have occurred, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, etc. and where the needs of those in difficulty are desperate for help. Such ministry includes not only health care and spiritual care, but also providing for basic needs, such as food, shelter, sanitation, and relief services and above all a comforting word and presence.

Therefore, one may conclude, knowing the variety of ministry that the Camillians are engaged in around the world, that a person need not be trained as a medical professional to become a member of the Order of the Ministers of the Sick. Nevertheless, if you are medical professional you will have a better competency in the specific area of your ministry.

-Fr. Naveen M Pallurathil MI

Community Takes Love

I really don’t think that I can give a good all-encompassing definition of community. I know that it is made up of all types of individuals from all types of backgrounds. Somehow, some way, these people come together and form a unit.

This process of coming together is not a haphazard or spontaneous thing. It takes a lot of giving of oneself. In short, community takes love.

We are a group of men ministering to others, but first and foremost, we are centered around Jesus Christ. The fact that he suffered and died for our sins, and the fact that he is risen from the dead, is the very essence of our community. He is why we live together daily, as a family, we celebrate his redemptive act. His body and blood, the Eucharist, is the living foundation of our community. It is only from this foundation that we are able to move out and effectively minister to the aged, the lonely, the sick and to each other. We search for his face in those we serve.

Our first community was formed in Rome in the 16th century. St. Camillus gathered men around him. Men who wanted to worship together and who wanted to serve the sick together. Although medical practices and the needs of society have changed with time, the basic concept of the Camillian community has remained the same. After nearly 200 years, we still pray, live and work together under the symbol of the Red Cross. Men who freely choose to call each other brother. Men who freely choose to serve others for the glory of the Father.

Deep inside each of us there burns a desire to live as Christ lived. A need to give of self to others. At times this desire may manifest itself as a brilliant, almost uncontrollable source of energy; a need or compulsion to step out in faith and serve the needs of the world. More often, it is nothing more than a flicker; a flame nearly extinguished by our handicaps and shortcomings; our humanness.

To fuel this flame, to discover our inner beauty, to polish and perfect the gifts and talents which lie within each of us is also the purpose of community. More specifically, it is the purpose of formation that period at the beginning of community life in which each of us is reshaped, reformed, re-forged into Camillians – Servants of the Sick.

Formation is a time to bring things together, a time to search deep within ourselves, a time to discover ourselves. It is a time to sit informally and talk things over, and also it is a time to meet and discuss our common goals. It is a time to give direction and a time to receive direction. Now it is within the framework of the formation community that we construct the spiritual foundation that will last for the rest of our lives.

This building of a foundation is not an overnight process. It is a long walk with the Lord. It encompasses every aspect of our lives from a simple cup of coffee in the morning to the sharing of our last days on this earth.

Community allows us to laugh with each other, and it gives us the ability to laugh at ourselves. It is as common as the evening paper and the daily housecleaning chores.

Community recreates us, whether through meditation or common recreation. Community calls each of us from various pasts and asks us to share our future together. Community binds us as individuals under a common symbol; to serve those in need, to serve those who are abandoned and without hope.

Community is answering the call of Christ. A call to go forth and love one another.

The Fourth Vow

The “Fourth vow” is a religious solemn vow that is taken by members of various religious institutes of the Catholic Church, after the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. It usually is an expression of the congregation’s charism and particular insertion in the apostolic field of the Church. The Order of the Ministers of the Infirm (Order of St. Camillus) takes a fourth vow of service to the sick even at the risk of one’s own life.

Having a fourth vow, along with the other evangelical counsels, was not unknown in the sixteenth century Religious Orders. There were other religious institutes that adopted the practice of taking a fourth vow, for example the Brothers of the Order of St. John Of God, Order of Clerks Regular Theatines founded by Cajetan of Thiene, The Barnabites, Society of Jesus (Jesuits), the Somascans Fathers, founded by Jerome Emiliani, The Minor Clerks Regular Caracciolines founded by Francis Caracciolo, The Order of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools (Scolopi). Chronologically, Ministers of the Sick was the seventh Order which received Papal approval to take the fourth vow.

Unlike the other Orders and congregations, The Order of the Ministers of the Infirm takes the fourth vow as the foundational charism and sole objective of the institute. The Bull of Pope Gregory 14th granted solemn Profession to the Ministers of the Infirm in 1591, and states that Camillus and his companions are granted the faculty of “taking the essential vows of religious life, that is the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and of perpetual service to the sick in the essence of the prescribed formula”. (Ref: Emidio Sogli:, Charles Dyer translated, Bangalore, India 1994).   The formula of life states that “the Ministers of the Sick would solemnly bind themselves by the profession of the vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and perpetual service to the sick which is the principal aim of this institute”.

The initial inspiration of Camillus was to form a society of generous souls to try to nurse the sick in St. James’ Hospital, Rome, where he was the ‘house master’. But God had a different plan as his biographer, Father Cicatelli observed. “His idea was to set up a loose form of congregation without vows: but it was God’s plan to have something stable and lasting”. The first rule that Camillus put together did not include service to the sick as a vow. Camillus wrote “…..if anyone desires to practice this charitable work, he should realize that he must observe perpetual poverty, chastity, obedience and service to the sick, without, for the time being, making a vow. Such a disposition, however, is not intended to deprive anyone of his free will; that is not allowing him to make private vows if he wishes. In this matter, I want to let the grace of the Holy Spirit work freely”.

It is important to note that the first approval Camillus obtained from the Holy See was to form a group of lay men, but stressed the necessity of having priests to administer sacraments to the sick and organize congregation’s activities and function as the superior ( Ex omnibus by Pope Sixtus 5th, 1586). For Camillus, there was no question of making a public vow, primarily because of his humility, and secondly due to the ecclesiastical sanctions on religious in post reformation Church. But things changed rather rapidly as Cardinal Paleotto had personally observed how Camillus and his companions served the sick and was deeply impressed. He pleaded with Camillus to open a house in Bologna, his home city. Camillus explained his lack of resources, and not having enough members and priests to open a new house along with lack of sponsors to get the members ordained. The Cardinal took the matter up immediately and after having discussions with Cardinal Mondovi, decided to raise the society into a status of an Order in order to spread the Order throughout the world.

Once Camillus had obtained the profession of the vow, his fervor in the practice of holy charity towards the sick burned brighter than ever, and he declared that he was bound by the vow to do what previously he had done only out of charity. The fourth vow was the axis on which the community of Camillus revolved with greater zeal and was proved during the outbreak of plague in Nola and Savoy. Numerous priests and brothers laid down their lives in nursing and caring for the plague–stricken with the medical and hygienic conditions of the sixteenth century. Whenever the plague struck, the Ministers of the Sick were at hand. As a result, from 1607 to 1634, they paid a heavy price for their heroism; 13 died at Palermo, 10 at Mantua, 16 at Milan, 9 at bologna, 4 at Borgonova, 5 at Florence, 37 at Naples and 14 at Genova. In Rome, the Superior General, Fr. Marco Albiti, died of plague on Christmas day 1656. (Ref: EmidioSpogli).

Mario Vanti writes, “In such exceptional circumstance of plague, the community began to appreciate how well the fourth vow had prepared its members for the task ahead. Indeed starting with major superiors who were the first to offer their service to those suffering from the plague, the members competed for one with the other to be the first to be chosen and sent to where the needs were the greatest. In doing so they fulfilled the vow they pronounced, “ I promise God… to serve in perpetuity the sick poor, even the plague–stricken“.

The fourth vow as the “principale institutum” guided the life and the activity of the Order of the Ministers of the Infirm (Order of St. Camillus) from its very inception until the present day. Camillians were the pioneers to care for the modern plague, like the recent epidemic of Ebola in Africa and AIDS in different countries.

-Fr. Naveen Pallurathil