Fr. Antony KUNNEL, M.I.


Crisis and impasse caused by COVID-19 is alarming. In our society, attuned to living the present in a rapid velocity, the prospect of startling crisis and forced hospitalization, seclusion, and death are even more bewildering. How can we, in any such circumstance, become a servant to those being led? “I am among you as one who serves” is how Jesus sums up his mission (Luke 22:27). St. Camillus de Lellis (25 May 1550 – 14 July 1614), founder of the Ministers of the Infirm (CAMILLIANS), exemplified this mandate in a unique way. Although, leadership and service are frequently thought of as being opposite, Christian leadership at its bottom involves an element of service. Accordingly, St. Camillus de Lellis who served the sick and led them by encouraging and building a New School of Charity focuses on leadership through service. Camillus shaped a culture of service and addressed service as the heart of leadership.

The Importance of Motive
Service is the measure of Christian leadership. Being a servant leader consists in the conviction that Christian leaders lead by serving and serve by leading as an expression of their faith in Jesus. They then become God’s instruments of service to people. Service is fundamental to the identity of a Christian. Therefore, a Christian leader strives to be of service to all. Jesus left no doubt about the style of his leadership when he said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom” (Mt 20:28). This is how Jesus described his style of leadership, that of a servant. Jesus taught us by word and action that service is central to the identity of a Christian servant leader. The essential lesson we can learn from Jesus on leadership is that he taught and practiced leadership as “service.” Jesus was a servant leader in every sense of the concept. Gene Wilkes narrates, Jesus as one who served his mission (the will of his Father) and led by serving those he recruited to carry out that mission.

Finding Greatness in Service
Despite many challenges, St. Camillus practiced leadership by the example of compassionate service to the sick. He made service to the sick the highest priority of his life. Camillus de Lellis grew into service-centered leadership through service, prayer, and scripture. In his own way, Camillus revolutionized the services offered to the sick in the hospital. The inspired Camillus went out on the streets of Rome like a seraphim inflamed with charity to serve the sick. He sought out the sick and abandoned and, adored them as Lords and Masters. “The whole purpose of my life,” Camillus said, “is to serve the sick as if they were my king and masters, because in serving them I serve Christ.” It must be remembered that, Camillus, a brave young man, began his life journey as a soldier to fight enemies and lived a reckless life. Eventually, he converted, renewed, and transformed his life and committed to becoming a Capuchin monk. However, the wound on his leg caused his hospitalization. While there, Camillus was transformed through his direct experience with the misery and suffering of the poor. Inspired by the words from the crucifix, Camillus dedicated his entire life in total and compassionate and devoted service to the sick. A firm conviction of being called by God to care for the sick characterized his passion to serve. He allowed his faith to shape a spiritual identity for his unique service-centered life. Camillus considered it a personal responsibility to meet the spiritual, physical, medical, and material needs of the sick.

Encompassed by Mission
Camillus was a servant leader of his day. Indeed, his leadership began when God-given mission captured him. Camillus turns leader as he becomes a servant to the God-revealed mission. The hospital was a church for Camillus, the place of encounter with the Lord. He called the hospitals delightful and flowering gardens, like an earthly paradise. Once when asked whether the odour of the hospital and its stench did not irritate him, he said, “I do not believe that in this world you can find a field smelling with flowers, which I like so much, than the stench of the hospitals, from which I feel, restored. He used to say to his religious, “A good soldier dies at war, a good sailor at sea, but a good minister of the sick dies at work in a hospital. Camillus used his potential power to the advancement of service to the sick. He took necessary risks to make needed changes, defended the sick, and confronted those who neglected the care of the sick. Camillus, the servant leader served the mission and lead by serving those on mission with him.

Spirituality of Camillus’s Servant Leadership
Undoubtedly, Camillus’s expression of service to the sick is a distinguishing mark of his spiritual life. Inasmuch as following of Christ is a fundamental characteristic of religious life, it constitutes a closer imitation of the kind of life lived by the Lord Jesus and his disciples. Accordingly, the life of Camillus itself was concerned with the exercise of the ministry of service to the sick and regulated all of his life. The nucleus of Camillus’s servant leadership is a leadership through service that entails living solely for Christ. Camillus’s leadership through service entails giving up one’s life for Christ and contemplating Christ crucified in the sick. Very significant to the spiritual aspect of his service-centered life is that he completely identified himself with Jesus and served the sick like the Good Samaritan. As a result, he became a representative of the healing presence of Jesus through his servant leadership.

The kind of altruism exemplified by Camillus can be described as being other-oriented, selfless, and positively influencing others towards greater good. “Service” is the special aim “proper to the Religious Order Camillus established.” He left a deep imprint on his followers who saw him serving the sick with singular devotion. This can very well be called his heroism to serve the sick ‘above everything else’, even at the risk of his life. Correspondingly, the starting point of Camillus’s leadership is his relationship with Jesus and Jesus’ service-centered model of leadership. Therefore, such leadership is following Christ’s example of servant leadership.

Implications of the Servant Leadership of Camillus
Perhaps the most powerful lesson from the life of Camillus de Lellis is that he chose to lead more by example than by his words. The distinctive dimensions of his service to the sick and essential elements of his servant leadership ascertain that: Camillus, by identifying himself with the sick gained deeper insights concerning the pain and suffering of the population for whom he dedicated himself in order to enhance the quality of life. Uniquely drawn from his faith, his way of service to the sick is the prolongation of those gestures of mercy and compassion which characterized the earthly life of Christ. In his own unique way, Camillus cared for the sick with much compassion and authenticity, so characteristic of servant leadership in which he excelled. Everyone around him experienced his passionate care. The strength of his servant leadership is found in its power to serve the needs of the sick. Several elements make his leadership through service distinctive: 1) His service-centered leadership is an outcome of his surrender to the call of God. This call was successfully nurtured by Camillus and carried forward to the very end. He allowed himself to be led by love and the spirit of God; 2) In his service to the sick, Camillus gave flesh to the lifestyle of Jesus. He set an example which paved the way for many to follow; 3) Camillus grounded his servant leadership in the understanding of the person of sick in whom Christ lives and who is Christ himself; 4) He experienced God’s unconditional love and the initiative of total service to the sick had a divine affirmation; 5) His service to the sick was woven into the very spirituality of his life. He consecrated himself to the service of the sick. It was not just any kind of ordinary service, but service with the spirit of love (Gal 5:13) that a mother has for her only sick child; 6) His service-centered leadership is scripture-based, kingdom-centered and people-oriented. This is the genuine foundation for a service-centered leadership in order to be biblically altruistic; 7) The strongest motivation for the service to the sick came from the words of Jesus. He firmly believed, service to the sick is an essential aspect of the continuation of the salvific mission of Christ; and 8) distinctly, Camillus had an attitude of sincere love, which became service.

Servant Leadership is Practical
Christians are called to serve. Contemporary Christian leaders need to ask questions like, “what are we in-service to and how must we express that now? Serving as Christ served and leading by serving is the call for every Christian. Charles J. Keating a noted leadership writer affirms, “Leadership is a service, in the sense it makes to meet the needs of another or the group by performing needed functions.” Being a servant and leader is a process that begins with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He then invites the person to become a disciple, servant, and leader. Servant leaders who make the commitment to follow Christ will have great boldness to share the gospel of service with the lost. The servant leader develops godly character from the inside out. This higher calling will cause servant leaders to abandon their own desires and goals and become faithful servants. Furthermore, Paulo Cedar notes, leadership which serves as perfectly exemplified by our Lord Jesus is essential for those who seek to be effective and biblical in their service. Camillus’s agenda for himself was to give oneself for the welfare of the sick, and by becoming more like a servant; he turned out to be an enhanced servant leader of the sick. In addition, he invites us to commit deeply to the context in which we find ourselves and to point towards an adherence beyond the context.

Crisis is sometimes experienced by us as impasse. Impasse is a feeling of getting trapped or arriving at a dead end. Worse, the situation of impasse does not seem to offer a way out. The more we try to get out of impasse the deeper we get into a dilemma. The experience of impasse, I am sure, is not unfamiliar to us today. It is experienced not only by individuals but also by communities, towns, families, church, and nations. The psycho-spiritual, social, and economic implications are an extension of impasse of COVID-19 pandemic. In its more intense degree impasse makes us feel that all the support we had counted on, either have crumbled or have been taken away. The wise exercise of service in times of crisis and impasse is, then a question of cultivating a sense of service-centered leadership which informs the daily decisions of living a life of service. Thus Christian servant leaders seek the welfare of the people God has placed under their care. At the present health crisis, it is my hope that the exemplary servant leader example of St. Camillus de Lellis may facilitate qualitative growth in servant leadership.

Fr. Antony KUNNEL, M.I.
• St. Camillus Provincialate,
Snehadan Campus,
Sarjapura Road, Carmelaram P.O.
Ambedkar Nagar, Bangalore -35, India
e., c. 8147196553