Jesus saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, and cured their sick.


Pope Francis blesses a man in St Peter's square

I wonder if anyone here remembers Philip (“Doc”) Loretz. He was the first Jesuit doctor in the British Province. Up to the age of 55, he was a GP in the South of England – happily married with children and a successful practice. But, when he was 55, very suddenly and tragically, his wife died. Suddenly he was alone – all the children had left home. And he was bereft – like a boat cut from its moorings and tossed without power or steering into the current of life. And somewhere among all the grief and mess and misery, he found himself called by God to become a Jesuit priest. Obviously at 55, he did not have time to waste, so they trained him as quickly as the law allows and sent him to work in Guyana in South America.

It was when he got there that the trouble started. There were many people in the Rupununi who needed his medical help, but his superiors were not absolutely sure that it was right for a good and holy priest to be dirtying his hands with common secular medicine. So, he was asked to pause that work and consider carefully whether or not it was right, or even possible, for him truly to fulfil both of these roles.

And after a lot of thought and prayer, Doc Loretz turned to this passage of Scripture in which we see Jesus at His daily work:

  • healing the sick
  • preaching the Good News
  • feeding the people with the Bread of Life

Doc Loretz decided that if that was a good enough day’s work for Jesus, then it was good enough for him. And so, he spent the rest of his active life ministering to all the physical and spiritual needs of the people of the Rupununi. When I went there 20 years after him, everyone wanted to tell me about my predecessor who had delivered them and baptised them; healed them and confessed them; preached to them and married them; fed them with the bread of life and anointed them.

As Jesuits we take our name from our tradition of attempting in our own lives to continue the work of Christ on earth. Of all the Jesuits I have ever known, Doc Loretz is the one who took that most literally.

And so, when I was missioned there, it was a delight to me to meet him in the flesh for the first time at the age of 92 and still sharp as a tack. And I told him just what I told you. And, in his mild, gentle and elegant way, he was very angry with me. And he said – ‘no, that is not what it is to be a Jesuit; it is what it is to be a Christian’. I promised him that I would remember that; and that I would pass it on.

Let us stand and profess our Faith in Christ whose example we all follow.