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Interfaith approach benefits hospital chaplaincy

Westmead Hospital chaplains Anwar Alberq and Joy Bowen
Anwar Alberq and Joy Bowen, chaplains at Westmead Hospital.
Catholic Outlook, June 2010

The final conference of the Australian Health and Welfare Chaplains Association, held in Melbourne from 7-11 February this year, was also the inaugural conference of Spiritual Care Australia. This organisation is now the peak multifaith body for chaplaincy.

The theme of the conference was ‘Stories of Life, Images of Hope, and Reflections on Diversity, Conversations of Struggle and Moments of Grace’.

Two chaplains from Westmead Hospital gave a workshop entitled ‘One day a Catholic and a Muslim met in a hospital, everything about them is different or is it?’

The presenters were Joy Bowen, a Catholic chaplain of the Diocese of Parramatta, and Anwar Alberq, an Islamic chaplain. Anwar and Joy have worked together for seven years providing excellence in pastoral care to patients, families and staff at Westmead Hospital.

A feature of the workshop was how interfaith collaboration has informed their working relationship in a very practical way.

For some participants, this relaxed and friendly learning environment was the first opportunity to connect first hand with a person from the Islamic faith.

The format combined input, games (that demonstrated sameness and difference), personal stories, a lengthy, passionate open forum for questions and a solid dose of humor.

One of questions posed was: “How can you work together when what you believe is so different?”

Anwar gave a summary of those beliefs and values that are held in common across faiths, as well as a personal account of his own faith journey.

He spoke of the support and encouragement given to him by Joy and the department when he began his ministry at Westmead. “Without it I may have been tempted to give up, instead I feel a door has been opened here,” he said.

Joy said chaplains wanted to provide the best pastoral care for patients, families and staff; “it is always about their needs and never about our own”. “If we are secure in our own beliefs then we are able to open ourselves to others.”

The primary building block of pastoral care is to develop relationships with families, patients, staff and peers. “If there is true care, concern, respect and relationship for and with the other then heart-held beliefs of faith can be shared.”

Westmead Hospital is both the largest health campus in the Southern Hemisphere and the most diverse in terms of faith and culture.

The Pastoral Care Department has six full-time chaplains, three of whom are Catholic, three part-time chaplains and more than 45 who are trained by the department to provide care to people of their own faith.

Under the leadership of Parramatta’s Vicar General, Rev Robert McGuckin, and with the support of the manager of the Pastoral Care Department, Rev Bruce Slater, chaplains are called to the many traumas, deaths and tragic situations that occur on a daily basis.

A crucial part of Joy and Anwar’s responsibilities is to care for those admitted into the Intensive Care Unit where they provide pastoral care to families affected by sudden trauma.

“When distressed Islamic families come to visit and support each other it is wonderful to know that Anwar is close by,” Joy said. “I see the relief and appreciation in their faces knowing they have someone who knows their faith, language, culture and the hospital scene.”

The Catholic chaplaincy team at Westmead Hospital is at the service of patients and their families. Inquire at the front desk or ask a staff member to page a priest.

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