The charism that was initially given by God to a founder is deepened, developed and renewed in the life of the Institute that he founded. We Camillians draw upon the specific chaism given by God to St. Camillus, we are its heirs and its continuators and we make it ours so that it shapes our personal identity and the institutional identity of the Order.
During the more than four centuries of history of our Order this identity has remained almost identical and unaltered: it finds expression in the charism of mercy towards the sick (cf. Formula di vita del 1599; Constitution of 1988, nn. 1 and 9). The charism of mercy towards the sick revolves around two directives:
Complete service to the sick person
St. Camillus, when renewing the pastoral practice of his time ‘according to what the Holy Spirit taught him’ (cf. rule XXXI in M. Vanti, Scritti di S. Camillo, p. 67), achieved complete service to the sick person, with attention being paid to both his corporeal and spiritual needs. ‘If someone, inspired by the Lord God, wants to exercise corporeal and spiritual works of mercy according to our Institute…let him know that he should live…at the service of the sick poor, even though plague-stricken, as regards their corporeal and spiritual needs’ (St. Camillus, Formula di vita).
A ‘school of charity’ for those who share in the task of caring for the sick
St. Camillus was careful to teach others how to improve their presence at the side of suffering people. Through the testimony of his example first of all but also with words which at times amounted to remonstrance, he never ceased to teach and exhort everyone to provide assistance ‘with all perfection’. Being himself taught by a personal experience of illness, by the interior voice of the Spirit that guided him and by listening to the needs of the sick, St. Camillus began an authentic school of nursing, with precise rules as regards assistance and a detailed list of tasks (‘Ordini et modi che si hanno da tenere negli Hospitali in servire li poveri infermi”, in Scritti, pp. 67-72).
In order to be able to live the requirements of the charism of mercy, we find nourishment at the same sources that sustained St. Camillus. We recognise that God is the source of our consecration and it is for this reason that we perform every service ‘out of true love of God’, ‘to please the will of God’ and for the ‘glory of God’ (St. Camillus, Formula di vita). We take His Son, Jesus Christ, as our model and we believe that it is a ‘great gain to die for the Crucified Christ’ (St. Camillus, Formula di vita): Christ continues today his passion, in us and above all else in those who suffer, thereby completing the redemption of humanity. St. Camillus truly identified the suffering Christ with the sick people that he encountered and this to the point of calling them ‘my Lords and Masters’. From his biography we learn that ‘when he took one of them in his arms to change his sheets he did it with so much affection and diligence that he seemed to be holding the very person of Jesus Christ…Very often when taking his leave he kissed them on their hands, or their heads, or their feet or their wounds as though these were the wounds of Jesus Christ’ (Vita manoscritta, p. 228s). We give charity pride of place because it is the ‘valuable marguerite’ (Cicatelli, Vita Manoscritta), to possess which it is worthwhile leaving everything else. We so esteem charity that we commit ourselves by a vow to give our lives serving the sick, and to such an extent that during these four centuries of the incarnation of the Camillian charism many men and many women have been ‘martyrs to charity’ in giving their lives for Christ seen and served in sick people.
Some decisive dates in the life of St. Camillus and his foundation are marked by their falling on feasts of Our Lady: following his example, we, too, pray to her as the mediator of graces and of health for the sick and we imitate her in serving the suffering and caring for the dying with solicitude and tenderness.