Health, Healing and the Catholic Church

By: Spencer Crawford

November 4, 2014

Hundreds of miles outside of the crowded capital city of Tegucigalpa in a rural Honduran village, I asked a young boy if he had ever been to a hospital in his life. The skinny boy frequently would get parasites in his stomach and the common cold: two illnesses that have relatively easy treatments and are common among poor and vulnerable rural communities. Looking down as if embarrassed by the question, he told me that he had not because it was too far away and his family could not afford to travel there. Despite the boy’s frequent illnesses, the clinic set up by Georgetown University Medical Brigades was the first time he had seen a doctor in his entire life.

I then asked him if he had ever been to church. Resonating powerfully within me as a Catholic, the boy responded that he went to mass every day of the week and that there were 16 churches in his community. In my mind, the Catholic Church was providing for his soul—an area frequently missed in global health—but was neglecting his body. Much like GU Medical Brigades’ mission is to provide holistic care to its patients, the Church can extend further to educate and heal these communities. As healing the sick and working with the poor was one of Jesus’ key teachings, shouldn’t the Church be trying to do the same?

After working in the Berkley Center this past year, I have come to realize that the economic, political, and societal concerns that plague many nations are at the very least impacted by the degree of freedom of various religious groups to believe and practice their faiths. Having the freedom to believe and practice one’s faith has powerful implications in other public spheres as well. Through joining the Religion, Ethics and World Affairs Certificate program (REWA), I hoped to pursue research in light of the efforts of the Religious Freedom Project, tying in two of my academic interests: increasing underserved populations’ access to healthcare and determining how Catholic institutions can better be the intermediary between the poor and the medical care they need. Specifically, I want to see if and how religious freedom impacts healthcare in Latin American nations, and then see how under this environment of freedom, churches and religious organizations can better address the healthcare needs of the poor like the young boy I met in Honduras. The Doyle program provides me the opportunity to pursue my research interest—which I began exploring with REWA—and gives me the chance to engage with students and professors that can encourage, challenge, and direct the course of my project.

Health is complex and multidimensional, and often in myopically focusing on the details or immediate complaints, we lose sight of the broader, historical contexts that systematize these problems. Instead, looking at the political, economic, and, I would argue, religious dynamic in a community can be a much better indicator of health in a given population. In the future, I want to engage those who are marginalized by society as a whole but, perhaps more strikingly, within my own Church. Researching new initiatives through the Doyle Fellowship that could be best led by the rural Church in Latin America—especially in areas such as education and infrastructure—could change the trajectory of the lives of people like the boy I met in Honduras. Eventually, I would hope that small, pointed directives can form an environment where the reason that he had not seen a doctor was not that he could not reach one, but because he did not need one.

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Health, Healing and the Catholic Church