Time to call on some saints in the health care debate

The debate over health care reform in the U.S. has gone from robust to absolutely wild and wooly, not to mention uncivil — Rep. Joe “You lie!” Wilson — and downright dangerous — the tragic killing of anti-abortion protestor James Pouillon last week in Michigan.  Perhaps it’s time to call on the intercession of some saints to help bring a little grace to the debate and perhaps some resolution.

Since antiquity, Christians have prayed to holy men and women to ask their intercession with God for life’s ailments. Through the centuries, just about every sickness has been associated with a special patron. For example, headache sufferers can call on St. Therese of Avila. People with cancer have a special friend in St. Peregrine. St. Frances de Sales intercedes for the deaf. The mentally ill can count on St. Dymphna. Alcoholics share both Sts. John of God and Monica. St. Lucy helps folks with eye diseases. Our Lady of Lourdes is always good for bodily ills of every stripe.

Health care providers have patrons too. Anesthesiologists and anesthetists pray to St. Rene Goupil. St. Apollonia takes care of dentists and presumably dental assistants. Radiologists find an intecessor in St. Michael the Archangel. Surgeons have a trio: Sts. Luke (a healer himself, tradition holds), Cosmas and Damien. Nurses have a pantheon in Sts. Raphael the Archangel, Agatha, Camillus de Lellis and John of God. Pharmicists have choices depending on whether they work in hospitals — St. Gemma Galgani — or in your neighborhood drug store — St. James the Elder.

A quick check of Our Sunday Visitor’s eternally useful Catholic Almanac or St. Anthony Messenger Press’ searchable patron saints can turn up dozens of other examples.

Of course, all saints pretty much work, depending on one’s personal piety and practice. Saints are generous like that.

Perhaps a good one for this particular debate might be St. Sharbel, the Lebanese Maronite monk and hermit. It might seem an odd choice, but when saints perform miracles, it’s not for mere mortals to figure out why.  In Lebanon and across the world, St. Sharbel is celebrated on the 22nd of every month. This is because on Jan. 22, 1993, a Lebanese woman, Nohad El Shami, who had suffered a paralyzing stroke, prayed for his intercession. She was miraculously healed. The saint, who never ventured far from his boyhood village, was said to have works many miracles throughout his life.

You can read about this wonderful saint in the recent issue of One magazine, published by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. In “A Saint Without Borders,” reporter Marilyn Raschka and photographer Sarah Hunter tell the story of St. Sharbel and his miracles in a small Lebanese village where he is buried. You can also see a multimedia presentation by both journalists about St. Sharbel.

Since the 22nd is coming up next week, and we’ll have a 22nd in all the months ahead during the health care debate, St. Sharbel might just be the saint to pray and ask his intercession. We could use a miracle or two right about now. Congress and President Obama want to have a comprehensive health care bill completed by the end of the year. St. Sharbel’s feast day is Dec. 24. Health care reform would make a great Christmas gift for the nation. I think he could do it.

Hawaii’s first saint touched her father’s life

Emma Kamahana Dickerson of Pennsylvania recently took three of her daughters and a granddaughter to Hawaii in anticipation of the canonization of Father Damien de Veuster, who will become the first Hawaiian saint Oct. 11.

Dickerson, 85, has a unique tie to Father Damien. Her father knew him.

There is a great story about this in the Hawaii Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Honolulu.