Taking the Gospel to the ailing

Father J.D. Betzen stands in the walkway of history displays at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis in Wichita. It is one of three hospitals he covers as a chaplain. (Advance photo)

Father Betzen implementing the diocesan Pastoral Plan to evangelize

Father J.D. Betzen says his new role as a hospital chaplain allows him many more opportunities to fulfill the diocesan priority of evangelizing today’s culture.

He cares for souls at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis, Ascension Via Christi St. Teresa, and the Ascension Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital.
Fr. Betzen said he is blessed with many opportunities to bring Christ’s presence to the ill.

“During a time of suffering or pain or great need, the Lord is still present there,” he said. “Being able to be a sign of that presence to those people has been very powerful in my life.”

When the faithful are unable to go to church or unable to see a priest, they hunger for the sacraments, Fr. Betzen said.

“There is also an opportunity to reach a number of people who are Catholic but who perhaps have not been to church in some time,” he said. “Being able to encounter a priest for some of them is a little awkward, a little nerve-racking, but others are very, very grateful to have a priest there.”

A missionary to the ill

Fr. Betzen said he is fortunate to be able to invite them back into the practice of their faith and return them to the sacraments. “It’s almost a missionary aspect of the pastoral plan, to evangelize those around them to return to the sacraments. They haven’t been to church but they go to a Catholic hospital. And a priest shows up at the door to invite them back. That’s been very powerful for me. I’m very grateful for that.”

Fr. Betzen had some previous experience as a chaplain. In his most recent post as parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, he was on-call and made weekly visits to the Wesley Medical Center.

Bishop Carl A. Kemme knew he enjoyed being a chaplain, he said. “That was part of the reason he assigned me first to Cathedral – to work at Wesley.”
He isn’t the only chaplain in the building, though. All the hospitals employ lay chaplains to assist their patients.

“I work with them each day and a number of them have more experience in the pastoral care of the sick than I do,” he said. “I’m learning a lot from them, from their expertise in particular.”

The lay chaplains and nurses make referrals to him, he said.

“If they encounter a patient who wants to see a priest, then I will certainly go and visit with them. A number of the nurses here already have asked me to go in to speak with patients who aren’t even Catholic, but I’m still able to bring the gospel to them. It’s been a great blessing. And being in a Catholic hospital the nurses are not afraid to ask to talk to a priest about the patients they see.”

Fr. Betzen said he is surprised at the number of conversations he’s had invited people back to the practice of their faith after only four weeks as chaplain.

“I didn’t expect that to happen as often as it has and it’s been a wonderful gift.”