Supporting and honouring health carers

WelCom October 2021 Lisa Beech  Support Life Sunday 2021 is celebrated on Sunday 10 October. This year the focus is on ‘Supporting and honouring health carers’, to acknowledge the work…

WelCom October 2021

Lisa Beech 

Support Life Sunday 2021 is celebrated on Sunday 10 October. This year the focus is on ‘Supporting and honouring health carers’, to acknowledge the work of health carers, including family carers and health professionals on the frontline supporting and protecting life.

Pope Francis has acknowledged and thanked health carers in many statements throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“Every day we witness the testimony of courage and sacrifice of healthcare workers.” – Pope Francis, Message for International Nurses Day 2020

Jude McKee, family carer: ‘It’s about respecting everything that Mum’s ever done for me. Here she is, this beautiful lady who brought me into the world, and now it’s my turn.’

Previously called Respect Life Sunday, the change of name and emphasis reflects the active work needed to live out our commitment to the sacredness of life through showing love in deeds as well as words.

Looking out for vulnerable patients at the end of life, being available for a cup of tea with pregnant women, responding to Covid-19 stresses, maintaining emotional connection while wearing masks – these are just some of the many ways health carers are supporting and protecting life.

Health carers work on the frontline offering support to others in the face of life’s challenges – like the Covid-19 pandemic, the implementation of New Zealand’s new abortion and euthanasia laws, and New Zealand’s enduring inequality. Carers witness the ongoing impact on health and life of poverty, exclusion, attitudes towards disabilities, and addictions.

Support Life Sunday is an important annual day promoted by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops. The bishops’ Nathaniel Centre for Bioethics has produced resources for parishes, schools and others to use, including liturgical resources to support activity by parishes, and a PowerPoint with quotes from Pope Francis and local health carers. The resources can be downloaded for use from:

Also included are in-depth interviews with eight Catholic health carers in different home and workplace settings. They share personal stories about supporting the lives of others in their relevant fields – nurses, pregnancy advocacy, and support for the dying. 

Jude McKee of Plimmerton is a family carer for her mother who has dementia. Jude, a Launch Out candidate for the Archdiocese of Wellington, reflects on her experience as a carer in her pastoral ministry formation. She draws inspiration from Jesus’ care for the sick and the dying.

‘We need to get a real grasp on aroha. If we can bring that into our communities, we would be able to reach further and provide much more real comfort and support, rather than rocking up with a bag of groceries and dropping it at the door. We tend to rush things just like we rush our secular lives.’

Dr Bernard Leuthart, general practitioner, New Plymouth: ‘We need to think about the silent ones, the ones who are vulnerable. Often it’s the poor who are silent.’

Dr Bernard Leuthart of New Plymouth shares about his work as a general practitioner. He appreciates the opportunities to support patients at the end of life and aims to support people to have a good death through palliative care. ‘I love the end of life; I’ve always seen it as hopeful.’

In Kaikōura, alcohol and drug counsellor Hariata Kahu had her eyes on bottle-store queues rather than supermarkets as New Zealand went into lockdown in August. She supports people to save their own lives by overcoming addictions. ‘Ultimately, the key to success is having good positive support in place.’

The health carers talk about their pressures and stresses, including risk of burnout and compassion fatigue. They say the wider community can support health carers through a word of thanks or acknowledgement, sending an email or card to those who are isolating, and by supporting public health campaigns such as mask-wearing, signing in, and vaccinations.

All parishes and communities have many people undertaking often unseen and unacknowledged health-care work. Support Life Sunday is an opportunity to reach out to thank health carers working with our communities and families, and to take inspiration from their examples of active, practical ways to support life at the beginning of life, throughout life and at the end of life.

To read more go to the New Zealand Catholic bishops’ website