Church has supporting role in lobby for unit

THE Dean at St Columb’s Cathedral has charged his congregation to support the lobby in favour of reinstating plans for a radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital.

In his sermon on Sunday he told the congregation that if needs be the Church should not only collate a major petition of signatures, but should be prepared to take the fight to the Assembly or even Downing Street if local politicians failed to secure the unit after the elections were over in May.

He said the decision to shelve plans for a radiotherapy department had caused “immense discomfort” and during his calling as a clergyman had always had a very close connection with hospitals, ministering to those in need and thosew who were ill with prayer and sacriment and to encourage them and assure them of God’s presence and love.

“Over those years of ministery I have come across many patients who have suffered from cancer and had to make the arduous journey to Belfast for treatment, and I have ministered to parishoners who have had to make that journey every day, up and down, sometimes for six weeks for three minutes of treatment every day. No matter how you choose to travel to Belfast and back it is a long arduous, tiring journey at the best of times, so just think what it is like for a person undergoing treatment, and perhaps feeling physically sick. I am sure anyone who has had this experience, and their family and friends as well, will agree that this shelving of the cancer unit at Altnagelvin Hospital will bring disappointment and despair,” Dean Morton said, noting that there had been a huge political reaction to the decision.

He said he hoped that claims that the decision would be reversed with the new administration in the Stormont Assembly proved to be true, and was aware that the decision stemmed from financial cuts being felt across the board due to the recession.

“What I do think is this: I think of the sheer human need and suffering, and the worry and concern that patients and their families are being put under by not having such a facility. We should all be most grateful to the hospital and the superb work of the staff in all the areas of medicine, but wouldn’t it be absolutely fantastic for a major hospital like Altnagelvin to have this facility? Just think of the difference it would make to cancer sufferers and their families,” he said.

Considering stressful scenarios such as a mother with a young family, cancer patients who lived alone, those without access to transport and the elderly, he said: “I believe that The Church has an onus on it to champion the cause of such people and highlight the urgent need for such a cancer unit for the people of the north west and west of the Provice and that also includes the people of the border counties, particularly Co Donegal. The Church has an onus on it to do whatever it can to lobby all our elected public representatives, councillors, MLAs and MP and to encourage them to do all that they can in their power to have the plans for the cancer unit reinstated.”

Aligning the need for a cancer unit with the role of the church in terms of it’s spiritual and pastoral care of its people, he said: “As a Church we must do all in our power to secure for our people all that God wills for their health and wellbeing. In terms of the Christian Church the health of any individual involves the inter-relation of body, mind and spirit. We therfore, must exercise a robust ministry to those who are ill and do all in our power and office to secure for themall that brings them wholeness of being. We must do our utmost to try and transformtheir lot in life,” he said, adding that this falls in line with the Diocesan initiative of ‘Transforming Community: Radiating Christ’.

“The Church must continue to as never before to minister to those who are ill, in being, body, mind and spirit and in terms of the plansfor the cancer unit, we must champion their cause . I believe that the Church must always keep in mind awareness of need in respect of its people,” he said.

However, Dean Morton said that if the promises of last week to reinstate the plans after the election proved hollow “we should be prepared to spearhead the collection of a major petition of signatures of those supporting the need of this unit and bring it to Stormont and even, if necessary, to Downing Street ourselves”.

He went on to encourage members of the congregation to raise the issue with those who electioneered around people’s homes in the coming weeks, irrespective of their gender or party politics, and said: “He or she should be asked that if elected will they ensure that this cancer unit gets full support. The Church, the body of Christ on Earth, is called to make a difference. May all of us resolve to do our best for those in need to transform our community and to radiate Christ.”