By Ignacio Pinedo
“Once in a while someone comes your way and changes your life.” That was the phrase I wrote in the thank-you postcard we gave John, our supervisor, at the end of the Clinical Pastoral Education course which I attended this past summer.
We were a group of six students who had just finished 11 weeks of intensive, grueling, marvelous, grace-filled work at Sunnybrook Women’s College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. It was a training program designed specifically for those interested in pastoral work in hospitals, retirement homes and so on, and also for persons training for other types of ministries such as parish or social work.
In my short message to John, I meant to convey my feelings toward the program, both the people involved and the actual learning experiences; how they had helped me grow and better understand myself, both from a personal/psychological point of view and from a spiritual point of view.
Throughout the program, the six of us worked as chaplains, caring for the spiritual well-being of the patients at the hospital and their families. We were also chaplains to the doctors, nurses, staff, volunteers and everyone who would come in contact with us during our daily rounds and when we were on call overnight.
Additionally, we were also ministering to each other as we gathered every day to share our feelings, our mutual brokenness and our graced moments. From sharing the stories of our past, as well as our present and future hopes, we were able to grow closer. We began to offer pastoral support to each other through our presence, offering up our own selves, our feelings and emotions, everything that we are, including our faults and failings together with our gifts.
We were able to witness and journey with each other in a way that reflected true and deep feelings of compassion and care for the well-being of those who travelled that road with us. In other words, ‘being’ with them.
And close we became. I had never before experienced such feelings of closeness and emotionally-charged interpersonal relationships. It was wonderfully exciting and excruciatingly painful at the same time, as each of us shared ourselves with the others. The closeness we shared was such that at many times I felt their feelings of joy and sorrow as my own.
In the middle of all this, as the barriers came down and the level of trust was raised to heights never known to me before, something wonderful happened. It was like a curtain was lifted and a weight on my shoulders—the result of years of repressed emotions and feelings—disappeared. It was at that graced-filled moment that I felt the beauty of the bond that will remain with us for the rest of our lives.
For those brief moments, the Spirit was hard at work, deep inside each of us, and it was then that many, and I include myself, were liberated of some of the burdens and masks that would have been an obstacle to our future ministries. In a way, we became mirrors to each other; safe places where we could see reflected, those things that we share in common and all those things that we hold dear.
By the end of the program, we had learned to respect our differences and to love our similarities. It is because of this blessed experience that we were able to share a part of ourselves with the patients and their families, with the doctors, nurses and staff, and with the rest of the pastoral team. Most importantly we had been blessed by receiving from them just as much, if not more, than we had given. It would be fair to say that they are the heroes in the life of any person dedicated to pastoral ministry. They are the ones who provide the ground for those graced-filled moments, and they do it out of the generosity of their hearts.
To John, Maryann, Elizabeth, Emma, Lois, Stan, and everyone else at Sunnybrook Women’s, thank you for your love and care. God Bless.
Ignacio Pinedo is a Scarboro Missions seminarian who is currently serving in Riobamba, Ecuador, on a one-year pastoral mission experience.