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St Camillus de Lellis (14 July)

St Camillus was not a likely candidate for sainthood. His mother died when he was a child, his father neglected him, for the whole of his adult life he was affected by a disease of the leg and he became addicted to gambling. After entering a Hospital for Incurables in Rome, as both patient and servant, he was dismissed for being too argumentative.

He served for a time in the Venetian army and by the winter of 1574, he had gambled away everything. He found work at the Capuchin friary and, hearing a sermon one day, experienced a profound conversion. He devoted the rest of his life to the care of the sick - so much so he has been named patron of hospitals, nurses, and the sick. With the encouragement of his friend, St Philip Neri, he was ordained a priest - interestingly, he was ordained by Bishop Thomas Goldwell, who was the last surviving English Catholic bishop, having been forced into exile with the accession of Elizabeth I and ending up in Rome.

He founded a congregation of his own, the Camillians, and they did much work caring for the sick and dying, including victims of the plague. No one was refused, no matter how poor or dirty they were. They also helped soldiers, forming some of the first military field ambulances. The first Camillians included several men from England and Ireland - and they wore a distinctive red cross on their black habit - the first time that the red cross was used as a symbol for assisting the sick.

If St Camillus had been alive today, he would have been right in the midst of the COVID victims, working in the hospitals and homes, wearing PPE alongside the habit with the red cross. Indeed, his order still exists today, working for the sick all around the world. We ask for his intercession in these unprecedented times.

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