We have known them throughout these years as chaplains in our hospitals and residential homes for the elderly. Their chestnut hooded tunic, with its cord and sandals or shoes, reminds us that an authentic life is always one of conversion, centred on humility and expressed in serving the poor and the neglected. These are the Capuchins.
The Capuchin Constitutions clearly say that these lesser brothers are necessarily linked to hospital ministry. In fact, the latter is an excellent expression of their gospel minority. After the example of Saint Francis, who had great compassion for the poor, and the founders of our Capuchin brotherhood, who helped those suffering from the plague, let us live alongside our brothers and sisters in need, especially the sick, eager to offer them wholehearted service as brothers (Const. 108, 3). In Constitution 149, 2 we find: Let us promote the customary works of the apostolate such as popular missions, retreats, the sacramental confession of the faithful, the spiritual care of religious women, especially Franciscans, care of the sick and of prisoners, works of education and of social development.
Again, Constitution reminds us: After the example of Saint Francis and the enduring tradition of the order, we willingly undertake the spiritual, and even bodily, care of the sick and infirm (Const. 153.1). In its second part, this Constitution says: Following Christ who went through towns and villages healing every kind of sickness and infirmity as a sign of the arrival of the Kingdom of God, we fulfill the mission of the Church. Through her children, she is at one with people of every condition, especially the poor and afflicted, and willingly spends herself for them. In view of this exhortation the last part of this Constitution exhorts the Capuchin ministers to orient the Capuchin fraternity to choose hospital ministry as the type of apostolate with which the brothers are to live their Franciscan charism. Let the ministers and guardians favor this ministry since it is an exemplary work of love and of the apostolate.
The Capuchin Order’s history bears witness to this vision. For instance, Fra Matteo D’Abascio, one of the founding fathers of the Capuchin reform, besides being a great preacher also took care of the sick. Another great Capuchin who worked in this area was St. Felix of Cantalice, a Capuchin lay brother. Felix would visit the sick at the friary, in private homes, at the hospitals of St. James of the Incurables, of the Holy Spirit, and of St. John Lateran. Felix spoke in simple language, encouraging the sick to trust, and to accept sickness as a graced moment. Felix’ reputation as a healer of peoples’ ills spread all over. He would often bless the sick with a crucifix and they would be healed. At other times, he would give away some of the alms he had collected, which, in turn, became channels of healing.
Even in Malta, the Capuchins maintained the spirit of St. Francis who led him among the lepers and showed them mercy. The Capuchins exuded the sweetness of the gospel in hospitals such as that of Mount Carmel. They are carrying out this apostolate since 1861. In 1968 we find them working at the Central Hospital in Floriana. For more than hundred years they served the St. Vincent de Paule residents whereas in 1934 they assisted the lepers at Saint Bartholomew hospital. In 1937 the Capuchins started giving their spiritual assistance to tuberculosis patients at the Connaught Hospital in Mdina. Other hospitals wherein the Capuchins gave their lives serving the Lord Jesus in the sick are the Santo Spirito Hospital in Rabat, Żammit Clapp hospital in San Ġiljan, St. Luke’s Hospital in Tal-Pietà, Karen Grech, Sir Paul Boffa in Floriana, and presently in Mater Dei and Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre.
For us Capuchins, the hospitals are the places where we keep being faithful to our calling of ministering to the poor of our time. Furthermore, the hospitals are our graced places of our continual interior conversion according to the Gospel and the Rule we have professed to live. It is in our DNA as Capuchins to be hospital chaplains. That is why the Capuchin presence in our hospitals is so essential not just for us but also for the Church and the people we are called to serve.