Interview with Fr. Jerzy Hansel SJ – hospital chaplain in Opole, Poland.
Fr. Jerzy, what is the role of a hospital chaplain?
Hospital chaplain’s work is one of the forms of priesthood service. A chaplain has day-to-day contact with human suffering, human tragedy – not only regarding patients themselves, but also their families. Patients often ask difficult questions – “why is this happening to me?”, “why do I have to suffer so much?”, “why do I have to leave this world?”… Obviously there are no simple answers for such questions.
You meet believing and not believing patients every day. Can you see any difference in their perception of suffering?
St. John Paul II said once, that “suffering itself isn’t the main problem, but that it is pointless”. In experience of sickness, of suffering, you can see a huge difference between those who believe and those who not. Sickness and suffering for non-believing people is – using St. Paul’s words – “a stumbling block and folly” – unacceptable reality. For believers, those who really believe from the bottom of their hears, sickness and suffering isn’t a pointless accident but a sign of God’s wisdom and power.
Should then a sick person pray for healing?
Of course, we should pray for health, for a successful surgery, but if the sickness lasts for a long time, it can be a situation that God allows to – a sick person becomes a part of Jesus’ Way of the Cross and redemption of the World.
The World needs renewal, so for this intention prayer and sacrifice is very needed. Mary asked three little shepherds of Fatima – Francisco, Jacinta and Lúcia – to pray, especialy the Holy Rosary, to reward her Immaculate Heart, and for the conversion of sinners. This calling of Our Lady is current and will be till the end of the World.
Deep faith is very helpful for patients and their families, especially for the terminal period. Sadness and tears are present but the face and eyes reflect peace, hope and love, what hardly ever happens In the case of non-believers.
You’re not only a priest, but also a doctor. Do these roles complement each other?
My medical experiences – studies and a couple of years of practice – even from some time ago, are helpful because the medical environment isn’t unknown to me. Even though I haven’t worked as an MD for many years the atmosphere of a hospital, patients’ problems, terminology, diagnostic methods and symptoms are familiar. Actually, I quite often happen to meet friends from med university, which is nice too…
Please tell us, what has touched you in a most significant way as a chaplain? Some particular situation…
I remember one man, with a very bad diagnosis but he was able to talk. Whenever I offered him sacraments or conversation he always answered “no”, very strictly. After a couple of days I gave up.
But then, a few days later, when I was passing at his door, a woman who stood there asked me to visit her brother, because his state was very bad. I replied that the man was not interested in any contact with me, so unless she would make him want that – I wouldn’t bother him. But she encouraged him to meet me.
At first our conversation didn’t go well. He was very closed. He told me that during communist times he had worked for the state to fight the Church and the clergy. He was a non-believer but he decided to confess, as his fear of death was so strong. He asked me for a book that would help him prepare the confession, so I brought him St. Faustina’s diary with some parts marked specially for him.
When, after a few days, I came back, he told me: “if the Diary’s image of God is true, then my life is a failure…” He had never been aware of God’s love towards every single person. He said he was ashamed of fighting God and people who loved Him. If he ever had known the truth, he wouldn’t have lived like that.
He confessed, received the Communion, the Anointing of the Sick and died after two days. I think his words are a clue to understand those who declare to be non-believers: they have a wrong image of God, religion and the Church.