Heart of Flesh
St. Benedict Joseph Medical Center
Published biannually
Summer, 2007
Refuge of Mercy
by Fr. Herald Joseph Brock, CFR


This year, by the Providence of God, the feast of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, April 16th, fell the day after the Second Sunday of Easter, which according to the revelations the Lord Jesus gave to Saint Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s, is to be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday. At a Mass for local friends and benefactors of the Medical Center on Sunday, April 15th, this providential alignment provided the opportunity to reflect on the mission of SBJ in the light of the message of Mercy, the greatest of the qualities of God, and the example of our holy patron.

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre was a peasant; in Honduras he would be called a campesino. His family was poor and lived in the country. Benedict Joseph himself suffered from a debilitating emotional illness that left him inclined to chronic depression and prevented him from fulfilling his heart's desire of being a monk. He tried repeatedly to enter different monasteries, failing every time. He failed, but wasn't defeated. He finally discovered that his vocation was to be a permanent pilgrim, “the Holy Wayfarer and Saintly Brother of the Road,” making an annual journey on foot to different major shrines in Europe, always spending Holy Week in Rome, where he died in 1783 at the age of 35. Saint Benedict Joseph Labre represents in many ways the patients served at the Medical Center that bears his name: simple rural people with deep faith who often suffer from forms of mental illness brought on by the hardships of life, and who, like Saint Benedict Joseph, also suffer from parasites, skin diseases and stomach problems.

Amazingly, however, Saint Benedict Joseph also represents those who volunteer and serve at the medical center. Among his other titles we find, “Tender to the Outcast, Ministering in Charity Hospitals, Worker of Mercy.” By the grace and power of God, he was able to use his own suffering to build a bridge of compassion and mercy to others in need. He represents, then, both those who give and those who receive mercy.

Indeed, it is often in the very act of showing mercy that one receives it as well. This happens again and again with the members of visiting surgical teams and other volunteers at St. Benedict Joseph Medical Center. It is an experience that reproduces the encounter between the Apostle Thomas and the Lord Jesus after the Resurrection, recounted in the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter (John 20:19-31). It is when Thomas is able to see and touch the wounds on the body of Jesus that he comes to believe: “My Lord and my God!” As a result of the Resurrection, the very wounds of Jesus have become, as depicted in the Image of Divine Mercy, a fountain of life and mercy greater than the misery of the entire world (cf. Diary of St. Faustina, n. 1485)! Most of the patients at the Medical Center are baptized Christians, members of the Body of Christ that is the Church (cf. Rm 12:4-5; 1Cor 12:12; Eph 4:12; Col 1: 18), people with whom, in their suffering and poverty, Jesus identifies Himself: “You did it to Me,” (Mt 25:40). This identification becomes even more vivid and dramatic when surgical patients are laid upon the operating table with their arms stretched out on supports (to facilitate the inflow of IV solutions) in the form of a cross! In touching and helping to heal the wounds of the members of His Body, our volunteer medical professionals often experience an overwhelming sense of the Lord’s love and mercy. “Blessed are the merciful, mercy shall be theirs” (Mt 5:7).

As distinguished from “pity,” which can connote a sense of superiority and condescension, mercy is something altogether different. “Mercy,” Pope John Paul II tells us in his encyclical letter Dives in Misericordia (n. 6), “has the interior form of the love that in the New Testament is called agape. This love is able to reach down to every human misery… When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and ‘restored to value.’” This, in a word, is the mission of the St. Benedict Joseph Medical Center: to be a refuge and a sanctuary of mercy where the dignity of our Honduran brothers and sisters, so often assaulted and wounded by the harsh realities of the extreme poverty in which they live, can be “restored to value.” We do this by offering them the highest possible quality of medical care, free of charge, in the name and as an expression of the love of Jesus Christ. Caring for the sick is one of the corporal works of mercy recommended by the Church (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2447), based on the teaching of Jesus: “I was sick and you cared for me,” (Mt 25:36). As the Lord said to Saint Faustina: “I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it” (Diary, n. 742).

Our hearts overflow with gratitude to God, “the Father of mercy and source of all consolation” (2Cor 1:3), and to all of you, our “coworkers of mercy” for being the “living stones” (cf. 1Pt 2:5) though whose generosity the refuge of mercy that is St. Benedict Joseph Medical Center continues to be built!


Light of the World Surgical Mission
November 13 - 17, 2006; 100 Surgeries & Procedures

Dr Beltran Donna Dr Chabot
Jeanne Br Damiano Dr Brazell

General surgeon Dr. Yvette LaClaustra, Fr. Herald Joseph Brock, CFR, and US Ambassador Charles Ford observe a laparoscopic procedure being performed by Dr. Antonio Beltran, assisted by Chloe Harshman (top left). Donna Batta prepares a patient for surgery (top center) while Jeanne Teter comforts a little boy in recovery (bottom left). Nurse Annette Frankiewicz and Br. Damiano Maria Vaissade, CFR, accompany another individual to a patient room (bottom center). At top right is general surgeon, Dr. Richard Chabot, and bottom right, ob-gyn surgeon, Dr. Lynn Brazell.


Light of the World Surgical Mission
March 26 - 30, 2007; 63 Surgeries & Procedures

Dr Iannolli Ellen Rick
Gabriel Dr Becker Dr Gomez

Husband and wife team general surgeon Dr. Pasquale Iannoli (top left - assisted by nurse Ilene Blasio) and anesthesiologist Dr. Ellen Iannoli (top center) serve simultaneously in their respective specialties. SBJ volunteer Rick Jesse, on sabbatical from the University of Vermont, keeps a young waiting patient company (top right). Honduran medical student Gabriel Talavera reassures patient Reina Ventura before surgery (bottom left). Surgeon Dr. Edward Becker performs a laparoscopic procedure assisted by nurse Andrea Stoll (bottom center), while anesthesiologist Dr. Joel Gomez attends an elderly patient in recovery.

Other Medical Center News
St Gerard Henry meeting

In June of 2007 St. Gerard Ministry pre- and post-natal care program (left) will enter into its second year of service thanks to the continued generosity of the John and Marcia Kelley Foundation and the Soroptomists of Stuart, FL; the program now includes on-site support at the local public hospital from
St. Gerard Ministry staff when the time comes for participants to give birth. Honduran volunteer Henry Menocal poses with village children (center) on one of the visits that SBJ doctors and nurses make twice a month to outlying impoverished communities with limited access to medical care. Professional development continues to be a priority for SBJ staff; in November, internist Dr. Diego Sánchez of Spain (right) presented to SBJ and other local physicians a strategy for the effective use of medications in treating common illnesses. In the same month a weeklong workshop was conducted by the Honduran Institute for Professional Formation for all SBJ personnel and guests from other Catholic institutions.