CBCI-Office for Health Care – Inception and Brief History
The standing committee meeting of Nov 1989, in Shillong, had discussions about the creation of a separate commission in CBCI for health care, instead of the commission for Justice and Peace (JPD) taking care of this ministry of the CBCI. This discussion was also done in the context of the relationship between CHAI and CBCI. Eventually the CBCI Commission for Health Care (CBCI HC) was formed during the General Body meeting of 1989, in Shillong. As per the report some of the reasons for creating a separate commission in CBCI for health care were:
- Health care is an important ministry of the church and it is one of the best opportunities for evangelization. This could not be given enough attention under the justice and peace commission. Hence, the need for a separate commission.
- People working in the health ministry face many moral problems due to advancement of science and technology. They need official directives and guidance from the church.
- There are many autonomous national church organizations in health ministry (CHAI, CNGI, etc). Therefore, Health Commission was proposed as a common platform to bring them together and for better coordination with the Bishops.
During this same standing committee meeting, there was also a plea for a common Health policy for the church in India. It was suggested that CBCI should take leadership to prepare such policy where all other church health related organizations can partake in the process. The Standing committee report, Sep 1990, Bangalore, mentions about the meeting called by JPD commission, where, the JPD commission, newly formed Health Commission, CHAI, St. John’s Medical College, and others produced guidelines for health policy. This policy was later revised by the Health Commission after extensive consultations among the health network of the church, moral theologians and so on. The outcome of this revision was the current health policy – ‘sharing the fullness of life’; and the current HIV policy – ‘Commitment to Compassion and Care’, which were released in August 2005.
Office Bearers of the CBCI Commission for Health Care
Most Rev Joseph G Fernandez (1989-93)
Most Rev Thumma Bala (1994-2001)
Most Rev Bernard Moras (2002-09)
Most Rev Vincent M Concessao (2010 -2016)
Most Rev. Prakash Mallavarapu(2016- till date)
Most Rev Ignatius Pinto and Most Rev Arul Das James (1989-93)
Most Rev Lawrence Mar Ephraem (1994-95) and Most Rev Joseph G Fernandez (1994-97)
Most Rev Gratian Mundadan and Most Rev Thomas Elavanal (1998-2001)
Most Rev Ignatius Menezes and Most Rev Thomas Elavanal (2002-05)
Most Rev Thumma Bala and Most Rev Francis Kallarackal (2006-09)
Most Rev Jacob Manathodath and Most Rev William D’Souza SJ (2010 -2016)
Most Rev Felix Toppo and Most Rev Jacob Manathodath(2016- till date)
1989-98 - Rev Fr George Pereira
1998-2008 - Rev Fr Alex Vadakumthala
2008 – 2016 - Rev Fr Mathew Abraham Puthenchirayil C.Ss.R.
2016 - 2019 - Rev Fr Mathew Perumpil
2019 - till date - Rev Fr Julious Arackal CMI
From the Biennial Reports
The First biennial Report (1990-91)
As per the First biennial Report the commission initiated the following:
- The process of developing contact persons in each diocese
- A survey regarding the ongoing anti-drugs / alcoholic programs in the dioceses.
- Represented a delegation against abortion pill (RU 486) and AIDS bill.
- Organized a meeting with the office bearers of the commission as well as CHAI towards better coordination between the two bodies.
The commission also revived the long standing effort for a health policy for the church in India for the following reasons:
- “So far the growth of our heath care ministry has been spontaneous and in response to specific local needs and at the initiative and drive of the specific institutions or individuals. As such our institutions and services are independent, autonomous and dissimilar in many respects” (p 71). In this context, a common policy will help judicious utilization of health care resources of the church avoiding unnecessary duplication and wastage.
- In order to address the many socio-economic, political, moral, religious and legal implications associated with the health care ministry.
As a way forward the report proposes a ‘three fold model’ working towards a healthy society through health promotion, disease prevention and primary health care approach involving the diocesan and parish network of the church. This model also envisages 4 levels of health organization – Village health committee, sector health committee, parish health centre and the diocesan health committee (p 72-75). The report also speaks about the need for pastoral care through health ministry by training priests, religious, health care personal and laity (p75-77).
The Second biennial report (1992-93)
As per the Second biennial report the commission celebrated the world day of the sick (February 11) which was instituted by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II.
Regarding the relationship with CHAI, there was a dialogue between a committee appointed by the Standing Committee of CBCI (Most Rev Gratian Mundadan, Most Rev Patrick D’Souza and Most Rev Joseph G Fernandez) and CHAI (Rev Fr G Moonjely, Rev Fr J Vattamattam and Rev Sr Lillian) on September 14, 1993, in Bangalore. The outcome of this dialogue, as reported to the Standing Committee, is detailed in the report (p 102-104). It highlights the importance of more coordination between CHAI and CBCI and for this purpose, the Chairman of the CBCI commission for health care was also appointed as the ecclesiastical advisor of CHAI.
The Third (94-95), Fourth (1996-97) and Fifth (1998-99) biennial reports
These reports mention about the ongoing school health programs, health and environmental issues, and programs related to HIV/AIDS. In addition to the above activities commission also disseminated information regarding ‘Evangelium Vitae’, ‘Charter for heath care workers’ and the messages for the world day of the sick. The fifth report mentions about the initiation of an association for the hospital chaplains.
The Sixth biennial Report (2000-01)
The highlights of this report are:
- A MoU signed between CBCI and IGNOU regarding the CBCI-IGNOU chair on health and social welfare on February 29, 2000, at CBCI Centre, New Delhi.
- The international celebration of the 10th World Day of the sick from February 9-11, 2002 at the shrine of the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health, Vailankanni, in the diocese of Thanjavur.
- A conference on ‘religious education and pastoral care of the deaf’ in May 2000, and initiation of a National Coordinating Committee for the Deaf Ministry (NCCDM).
- Initiation of a national coordination committee of those working in the field of leprosy.
- The initiatives to form a network of Catholic doctors, in order to assist them discover their special identity and role in today’s health care scenario.
The seventh biennial Report (2002-03)
The highlights of this report are:
- The ‘healing week’ celebration which included the ‘world day of the sick’ as well as the ‘health Sunday’ which was initiated in February, 2003.
- The involvement of the commission in emergency interventions related to communal violence and natural calamities like flood.
- In August 2003, the commission also succeeded in bringing together representatives from the Catholic medical colleges in India, some office bearers of some international and national health and developmental organizations such as Caritas Internationalis, Caritas India, CMMB, CRS, CHAI, SDFI, CNGI, and CBCI-IGNOU chair along with 11 bishops to work on ‘churches collective response to HIV/AIDS in India and a scale up action’.
- The report also speaks about the various seminars organized by the commission in various dioceses (Meerut, Bhagalpur, Jhansi, Bareilly, Port Blair) regarding health education and pro-life.
- The directory of the Catholic health facilities in India was released on April 30, 2003.
- The commission initiated a new quarterly journal, ‘Health in Abundance’ with the first issue in May 2003. The purpose of the journal was to focus on the Christian values, moral and pastoral aspects in health care, in order to build a culture of love and life and to fight against the culture of death with the help of health care personal and leaders of communities.
The eighth biennial Report (2004-05)
- The revised health policy of the Catholic Church in India, “Sharing the fullness of life” and the HIV/AIDS Policy, “Commitment to compassion and care” was launched on August 31, 2005, in the presence of Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, the union minister for health and Sri Oscar Fernandez, Chairman of the Parliamentarian’s forum on HIV/AIDS.
- Involvement in various activities related to HIV/AIDS, including Voluntary Testing and Counseling Centers (VCTC) in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
- Involvement in emergency interventions like Tsunami, earth quake and so on.
- Collaboration with the Government of India, UN Bodies and other NGOs especially on HIV/AIDS, vector borne diseases like Malaria, anti-tobacco day, and against female foeticide.
The Ninth biennial Report (2006-07)
- Involvement in various activities related to HIV/AIDS. These included activities like, dissemination of the HIV/AIDS policy by translating into Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and through various workshops at the CBCI regional level as well as through the health care network; study programs through the CBCI-IGNOU Chair; VCTC programs in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu; World AIDS Day celebrations; release of manual for youth on life skill education; and partnership with George Town University and so on.
- As a result of all these initiatives in HIV/AIDS, the CBCI got access to the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM). On June 1, 2007, CBCI signed its first MOU regarding Global Fund, through health commission, to establish Community Care Centres (CCC) for the care of People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) in 5 states in India.
- Background work for other Global Fund projects like – First IMPACT (Innovative Mobilization of Private Actors and Church against TB), to be implemented in 11 states in the country.
- Initiated discussions on control of Malaria with Directorate of National Vector Borne Diseases Control Program (NVBDCP) under the ministry of health and family welfare.
- Initiated the background work towards developing a ‘National Catholic Coalition for HIV/AIDS’.
The Tenth biennial Report (2008-09)
One of the fruits of the HIV/AIDS policy was the opportunity the CBCI got in accessing the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and malaria (GFATM). When this opportunity opened up for the CBCI, these projects were taken up by the CBCI through its Health Commission. As a result from 2007 onwards, the major focus of the Health Commission was on two projects supported by the Global Fund - PACT (Promoting Access to Care and Treatment), for PLHA; and First IMPACT (First Innovative Mobilization of Private Actors and Church against TB). Even though running these massive projects directly through one of the CBCI Commissions was a deviation from its purely inspirational role, given the circumstances at that point of time, CBCI had to take it up, so that the church will not lose this opportunity. However these projects eventually became a concrete expression and illustration of the HIV/AIDS policy of the CBCI.
In addition to these two projects, the commission continued the other activities like the World AIDS Day messages, Healing Week celebrations, collaboration with the other health care networks of the church and so on.
The National Catholic Coalition for HIV/AIDS was also registered as a separate society, CBCI-CARD (CBCI Coalition for AIDS and Related Diseases), in July 2009, in order to mobilize, facilitate and coordinate funds and activities especially in the field of HIV/AIDS and other related diseases.
During the General Body Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, at Guwahati, in February, 2010, as part of the ongoing restructuring process, the name of the CBCI Commission for Health Care was changed to CBCI Office for Health Care, along with other CBCI Commissions.
After the Government network, the Catholic Health network is the biggest Health care network in India, with its presence all over the country. Through her health care network the Catholic Church is involved in all the 3 levels of health care, i.e., Primary Health Care / Community Health, Secondary Health Care and Tertiary Health Care. Of the 5524 Catholic Health care facilities in India, only 788 are hospitals. The rest are dispensaries, health centers, rehabilitation centers, non-formal health initiatives and so on. In other words only about 14 % of the Catholic Health care facilities are involved in secondary and tertiary care; whereas about 86% are involved in primary health care, community health and rehabilitation services. This is significant in the Indian context where a vast majority of the population do not have access to essential health care due to the affordability problem. Thus the Catholic Church through her vast health care network, especially through primary health care and community health reaches the unreached and continues the healing mission of Jesus Christ, especially among the poor and the marginalized.
However, it is to be noted that even though the Church work towards preventing premature deaths, and alleviating suffering wherever possible, the primary reason for the existence of Her Health Care ministry is to lead people beyond material wellbeing to wholeness, where people encounter God in the midst of suffering and hopelessness, and discover fullness of life, by following HIM closely. That is where Health Pastoral care is so important, especially in the context of growing commercialization and secularization in the field of health care. In a country like India, where there is scarcity of trained chaplains for health pastoral care, we also need to incorporate more lay people, especially doctors and nurses who will also become ambassadors of the ‘health pastoral care’ mission of the Church.