This Sunday 11 February is the 26th World Day of Prayer for the Sick – a time when we think of those who are isolated or marginalised by sickness, and pray for the Lord to help heal them and to break down the barriers to social isolation. We may also take this time to consider those who are carers for the sick, whether they be family or friends, parish communities, healthcare workers or pastoral care ministers.
Ill health can isolate people in a variety of ways. Those experiencing illness, physical disabilities or severe mental health issues may be restricted to the confines of their home or hospital, or they may find it difficult to socialise or leave the house, and often they are avoided or shunned by the broader community. CatholicCare’s Pastoral Care workers - and in particular our HIV/AIDS Ministry team - witness the isolation and marginalisation that those with ill health experience and how it affects them and their families.
“Many people diagnosed with HIV have experienced prejudice and discrimination either in relation to HIV or to other aspects of their lives. Many remember the early responses to the virus, the ‘Grim Reaper’ advertisements and the fact that people expected that they would die, and they were fearful of the response they would receive."
“Some medications have side effects, including nausea and diarrhoea - others have longer term effects (for example the onset of diabetes). For people who are working, the cost of medications and alternative therapies can have an impact on their budget, leaving very little for social events.
Sometimes just coping with a chronic illness saps ones energy and, if working, means the weekend is spent recovering in order to return to work on Monday. All of these issues contribute to reduced social life and to isolation.”
“The Catholic HIV/AIDS Ministry offers lunch each Monday; a place where everyone is welcome. We work at building community and encouraging one another to look out for each other. This lunch provides a safe place for people living with HIV to talk about the virus and its impact. Those that come say they experience no judgement here, and that is so important. Our lunch conversation focuses on positive things in our lives - there is much laughter around the table. Lunch also provides a healthy meal for the day, assisting with the food budget.”
“Families also worry about stigma and prejudice - again many do not want anyone else to know about the fact that there is HIV in the family. Recently, a mother at a group we have for parents and friends of people living with HIV commented on how isolated she felt until she was referred to the group:
‘I thought I was the only mother of a son with HIV. I felt so alone until I found this group. I feel a huge burden has been lifted.'
“Another mother talked of the stress of having to find the time to go and collect her son's medication because he could not face going to the hospital pharmacy where they may have wanted to explain the medications to him and others would overhear. Others comment that no one wants to know about HIV anymore which in some ways makes things easier, so there’s no need to say anything to anyone, but it also isolates people because they cannot talk about something that is so important to them. Some people get frustrated because nobody seems interested in looking at ways to reduce the transmission rate within their community.”
– Margaret Hayes, Catholic HIV/AIDS Ministry Coordinator.
Whether a family has a relative with HIV or any other illness, we must remember them on this day too, as the stress and isolation they experience can be exhausting and essentially, life-changing. In a message from Pope Francis for World Day of the Sick, his holiness stated that “we cannot forget the tender love and perseverance of many families in caring for their chronically sick or severely disabled children, parents and relatives. The care given within families is an extraordinary witness of love for the human person; it needs to be fittingly acknowledged and supported by suitable policies”.
CatholicCare’s mission is to break down the barriers to social inclusion by strengthening families and communities, and our vision is for a stronger, more resilient and inclusive society – where everyone can reach their potential and enjoy life to the full.
We would like to ask you to pray for people who are on the fringes of society, to help bring them in, and to open your hearts and minds to the sick who are isolated and marginalised at this time.