Father John Northrop: Comfort and Healing

Since my days as a seminarian working in a hospital, and then later as a young missioner making the rounds, I have always been drawn to visiting the sick. After more than 40 years in mission, I still am.

Today I serve in El Salvador’s capital city of San Salvador from my posting at Cristo Salvador parish. I witness the compassion of Our Lord with an amazing group of Pastoral ministers—over 40 women and men. Working as a team, we visit the sick, the physically disabled, shut-ins, the elderly, and people recovering in the hospital.

These are just some of the people who welcome us into their lives and share their faith with expressions of gratitude…

Rosario Amalia is 28 and lives with her parents in a public housing project. Paralyzed from birth, she spends most of her time in a wheelchair, yet her smile always brightens up the room. Rosario Amalia looks forward to our weekly visits because “they greatly raise my spirits,” she says.

Upstairs in a housing block similar to Rosario Amalia’s, we visit 92-year-old Maria Alicia who rarely leaves home anymore. I hear her confession in the privacy of a bedroom. Then her daughter sets a table with lace cloth and candle. That’s where I give Maria Alicia the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion. She tells me how overjoyed she is to receive the Eucharist.

“Not surprisingly, people stop us in the street to tell us about friends or relatives who are suffering. Could we please find the time to visit? No one is ever denied.”

I only arrived in El Salvador in 2010. But our parish’s ministry to the sick was already well established thanks to our pastor, Father Joaquin Alvarez Campos, who still mentors new Pastoral ministers.

Our Pastoral ministers love their work. Most serve two days a week but we are available for more visits if need be. On Mondays we meet for an hour in church to pray before starting our rounds. Then one group goes to the hospital while another goes to the homes of the sick to bring Communion. On Tuesdays we meet for Mass at the hospital chapel and then fan out into the wards to bring comfort and Holy Communion.

Not surprisingly, people stop us in the street to tell us about friends or relatives who are suffering. Could we please find the time to visit? No one is ever denied. When Jesus acknowledged the saving grace of our good works—“…I was ill and you cared for me…”—he gave us a model for the missionary life.

Among the prayers I send to God each day are words of thanksgiving for you. I am so grateful for your support, and for allowing us to be the presence of Our Lord in simple and healing ways. My prayers are with you, too, as you “make the rounds” in your own life. Together we are living the Gospel as devoted partners in mission. What a blessing we have given each other.

~ Father John Northrop, M.M.