Vatican Corner 08-25-2019

In 2013 when Pope Francis was in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, he visited a hospital run by the Fraternity of Saint Francis of Assisi in the Providence of God. He asked the Fraternity if they had members in the Amazon. The reply was “no” and Francis simply replied: “Then you have to go”. As a result of that conversation the Fraternity was motivated to take charge of the hospitals at Juruti and Óbidos which had closed. But soon they realized that the people that live on the banks of the Amazon River have great difficulty reaching those hospitals because of the long distances and rough terrain. The Fraternity decided that they needed to bring the hospital to the people, so the solution was a ship. It became the 105’ long Hospital Ship “Pope Francis”, a collaboration with the Brazilian Diocese of Óbidos and the Brazilian Ministry of Labor. The ship will provide health care to those areas of the Amazon region which are only accessible by river. It will travel back and forth a distance of about 600 miles in order to serve eleven communities providing access to health care and religious instruction for about 700,000 people. The construction of the ship was made possible thanks to an agreement with the State Government which provided the proceeds from “collective moral damages” charged to Shell Chimica and Basf SA a5er their pesticide making plant caused 60 deaths over three decades due to exposure to toxic chemicals. The ship will has a crew of 10 including a religious leader, and 20 medical and paramedical volunteers (mostly), including university professors and students. About 1,000 coastal areas will be visited using the ship and two motorboat-ambulances. The initial plan is to depart from the port of Óbidos on 10 day trips to survey the health conditions of the people in the various areas. There will be outpatient clinics, laboratories, a surgical room, cancer prevention through examinations, classification and diagnosis, and collaboration with the local hospitals of Juruti and Óbidos. The Franciscan sister’s congregations will also participate and part of the medical team will be a nun-doctor. The ship has receive a painted image of the Virgin of Nazareth, has gone through its tests and final checks and on July 9, 2019 arrived in the Amazon region of Brazil to begin work. At the launching ceremony a le+er from Pope Francis was read. He expressed “great satisfaction with which he joins those taking part “in this moment of joyful thanksgiving to God.” He noted that the hospital ship “will bring the Word of God and offer access to be+er health care to the most needy people.” Francis recalled again the image of the Church as a “field hospital” which welcomes everyone without distinction or conditions,” and with this new initiative, the Church can also be seen as a “hospital on the water. Just as Jesus, in appearing walking on the waters, calmed the storm and strengthened the faith of the disciples,” Francis wrote “this boat will bring both spiritual comfort and calm to the upheavals of needy men and women, abandoned to their fate.”