May Day 9
Pope Francis, in his Mass intention of yesterday, called on us to pray for the Red Cross and the Red Crescent so today we call upon the intercession of Saint Camillus de Lellis, who founded the original ‘Red Cross’ centuries ago, as we continue our month of May search for ’31 patrons against plague’
Having lost both his parents when a small child, Camillus, still only a young boy, joined the army. He learned the game of cards while serving and became a gambling addict.
Finding himself out of the army, and having lost all his material goods through his addiction, Camillus sought work and refuge in the Capuchin monastery where he experienced a powerful conversion, repented of his past sinful life, and promised to spend the rest of his life serving the sick and dying.
Twice he attempted to enter religious life but was turned away due to an open sore on his leg that was deemed incurable.
Camillus decided to go to Rome and serve other incurables at the San Giacomo Hospital where he spent his days and nights serving the ill with intense devotion and attention.
Growing daily in virtue and holiness under the spiritual care of his mentor and confessor, Saint Philip Neri, Camillus lived a life prayer; his life became prayer.
As he tenderly cared for his patients, Camillus would talk to them of Jesus, telling them of His love for them and teaching them prayers of praise and supplication. He was eventually appointed the director of the hospital.
Seeing a need beyond what the hired staff provided, Camillus sought out devout people to help him attend to the sick, training them in cleanliness and medical skills and the same tender caring that he himself provided.
Camillus was always seeking to provide more in both material and spiritual goods for the sick and dying he served and so, once again, he sought, studied, and was admitted to the Priesthood in 1584.
Within a year of his first assignment at a small parish chapel, Camillus founded and formed a religious congregation to serve the sick and dying. The rule of the order was brief: to serve the sick with the same affection, piety, and diligence as they would serve the suffering and dying Christ.
Camillus had critics who put up resistance to his work and he struggled to convince the ecclesial authorities of its worthiness and value. He invited them to ‘come and see’ the work. After spending only a brief time with the members of the newly formed congregation as they went about their duties of the day, “to serve persons infected with the plague, prisoners, and those who lie dying in private houses” (The Rule), they sent their report to Rome and Pope Sixtus V granted full approval and confirmed the Congregation of the Servants of the Sick in 1586, two years after Camillus was ordained to the Priesthood, and in 1591 Gregory XV raised the pious congregation to a religious order “with all the privileges of the mendicant Orders, and under one obligation of the four vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and perpetually serving the sick, even those infected with the plague”.
The ‘Camillians’, as they became to be known, established the first ‘health care system’ in hospitals in Rome, set up the first ‘field hospitals’ during the Franco-Savoyard war, and became the first ‘first responders’ when the Bubonic plague ravaged northern Italy in 1629. To this day they continue “to serve the sick, even with danger to one’s own life” (The Rule).
Graced with the gifts of healing and prophecy, Camillus also suffered with many chronic afflictions, including the open sore on his leg that never healed. But he never allowed his own infirmities to prevent him from doing the work to which God called him. Camillus, the ‘Saint of Rome’, died in 1614 after crawling from his own deathbed to anoint another dying man.
Canonized by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746, Saint Camillus is the patron of the Sick, Hospitals, Nurses, Physicians, Healthcare workers, Hospice servants, First Responders, End of Life ministers, Red Cross, and Gambling addicts.
Saint Camillus de Lellis, pray for us in our time of need.