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Hospice Ministries within the Catholic of America include clergy members who have been called to this form of ministry. Like any apostolate is an action "directed to serving and evangelizing the world". In more general usage, an apostolate is an association of persons dedicated to the propagation of a religion or a doctrine.
The word apostolate comes from the Greek word apostello, which means to "send forth" or "to dispatch". The Christian origin of the word comes from the twelve apostles who were selected by Christ; they had a "special vocation, a formal appointment of the Lord to a determined office, with connected authority and duties". An apostolate can be a Christian organization made up of the laity or of a specific Christian religious order or individuals. This apostate committed to ensuring that each person is provided the opportunity to die with dignity, in a manner as free from physical, emotional, and spiritual pain as possible. Our hospice ministers bridge the gap between life and death by being present, offering hope, and expanding knowledge through compassionate service to the community. Our hospice ministries clergy believe that every human being has the right to a quality end-of-life experience. The hospice chaplaincy, as an integral member of the hospice team they work with. The role of a hospice chaplain is crucial, as many people turn toward spirituality for comfort at the end of life, and the expert spiritual care and counsel that a chaplain provides is paramount in helping patients ó and the caregivers, family, and friends who love them ó find peace. By better understanding the role of the hospice chaplain, their goals for care, and how they provide that care, we can better understand the incredible level of spiritual support that every hospice patient is provided on the end-of-life journey.
First and foremost, the chaplain is dedicated to providing the patient with care and spiritual counsel that meets their needs and is in accordance with that patientís wishes. If a patient does not wish to engage with a hospice chaplain or any form of spiritual care, they do not have to. It is entirely optional, and the patient can change their mind at any time. Chaplains do not seek to convert patients or bring them into the fold of a specific religion, but to instead meet the patient where they are on their spiritual journey and help the patient discover renewed meaning and spiritual peace. Regardless of religion, creed, or culture, a chaplainís purpose is to provide patients with compassionate spiritual support and counsel. Often and understandably, as a terminally-ill patient approaches the end-of-life, powerful and complex emotions ó such as anger, depression, guilt ó can begin to take root. Patients can also begin questioning the meaning of life, their purpose, and whether or not their life was of any value. The hospice chaplainís role is to help guide patients to a place of spiritual health by helping them see the value of their life and its positive impact. While the chaplain may not be able to provide all of the answers a patient may seek, expressing these emotions is healthy and having these conversations can help pave the path toward healing.
A cornerstone of the hospice philosophy of care is that no one should be alone at the end of life. No matter the time of day or night, the hospice team, including the hospice chaplain, is dedicated to ensuring that no patient dies alone and that each patient is surrounded by comforting, compassionate friends at the end of life. A healthy spiritual outlook is intimately connected to a patientís overall sense of well-being. Multiple studies show that patients who define themselves as having a more balanced and positive sense of spirituality report higher levels of positivity, lower levels of pain, and a generally higher level of comfort at the end of life. By providing compassionate spiritual support, the hospice chaplain helps patients achieve not only greater comfort spiritually, but physically, emotionally, and mentally as well.
Chaplains, as spiritual experts, understand the intimate relationships between religion, spirituality, and culture, and how those aspects of a patientís life shapes their relationship with the end-of-life journey. From this vast array of spiritual knowledge, chaplains can help patients find the rituals, prayers, and other spiritual coping practices that help instill a sense of peace and offer the greatest comfort. A patientís spiritual and cultural beliefs can have a large impact on the type of care they wish to receive. Certain medications, care practices, and specific forms of therapeutic care may be rejected by the patient should it conflict with their religious, cultural, or spiritual beliefs. Hospice chaplains help the hospice care team understand why and how certain aspects of the care plan may need to be adjusted to ensure that the care a patient receives is in alignment with that patientís preferences.