.- The Church in West Virginia is called to transform the health of her communities, by promoting wellbeing in mind and body and by working toward equitable opportunities for access to health care, said Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston in his first pastoral letter.
“I invite you to join me in committing anew to proclaiming the Gospel by curing the sick and working for the health and well-being of one another,” he said. “This is the way for us to be disciples and to truly be a Church that heals.”
This may be the first time an American bishop has devoted an entire pastoral letter largely devoted to healthy living, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told the Associated Press yesterday.
The bishop introduced his letter, titled “A Church That Heals”, during a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph on Oct. 18, the feast of St. Luke, physician and evangelist, The Catholic Spirit reported. The diocesan newspaper also reported that the letter will be available in its Oct. 27 issue.
At a press conference after the Mass at Wheeling Catholic Elementary School, Bishop Bransfield announced that the diocese has designated $400,000 to help meet the initiatives outlined in the letter.
In his homily, Bishop Bransfield said that over the first few years at the head of his diocese he has learned about the poverty and poor health of many people, their difficulties in accessing proper health care, and the consequences of inadequate health insurance.
The bishop called attention to staggering statistics, which indicate that West Virginia leads the nation in high blood pressure and arthritis. It also has the second-highest cholesterol levels in the nation, the third-highest rate of obesity, and the fourth highest rate of adult onset diabetes. Combined with the high levels of tobacco use and physical inactivity, he said, West Virginia is ranked 46th in terms of life expectancy and leads the nation in loss of teeth by age 65.
“We must reach out not only to cure illness but to encourage health; we must reconnect with that ancient goal of striving for a fruitful, spiritual life that arises from a sound mind in a healthy body,” the bishop told the faithful.
The bishop’s letter puts forth concrete actions to bring about healthier communities. He calls the local Church and faithful to:
- be a credible witnesses of healthy living through word and action
- be mission-centered
- meet the special needs of youth for safe activities, of the elderly for companionship and of the environment for continued and improved stewardship
- address root problems of illness and involve the community in finding solutions
- address the ironies and injustices in public policies regarding health care
- match the natural and human resources of the state with moral resources
- encourage a spirit of service and create communities of care and compassion
- empower people to take charge of their own health and to have a stake in the health of others
- develop local churches to serve as a resource for health and well-being
- promote a transportation system that does not rely solely on cars
- call on educational institutions to join efforts to overcome health challenges
- develop a contemplative stance for life.