Our Catholic Covid-19 Heroes

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Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan carries the cross through the streets of Waterford on Good Friday.

Fr. Damian O’Reilly, St. Vincent’s Hospital Dublin

Working as a Priest Chaplain in St. Vincent’s University Hospital at this time of the Covid19 pandemic is one of the most challenging and amazing experiences of my priestly life. To be working alongside health care professionals and all the staff of the hospital is truly a very humbling experience.

As a hospital chaplaincy team made up of two ordained chaplains and four lay chaplains we provide a 24/7 chaplaincy service to the patients, their families and to staff. We provide the chaplaincy service within the guidelines and restrictions of the HSE and as chaplains we have been trained in all Healthy and Safety processes and in infection control procedures that are required, especially in the care of our patients that are either suspected or confirmed with Covid19.

We attend to the pastoral and Sacramental needs of each patient when requested by either the patient themselves or by a member of the family or next of kin. We are available to support the families for whom this a particularly difficult time. Because of the restrictions, families are unable to be with their loved ones and this is particularly difficult if the loved one is dying. To be a pastoral and spiritual support especially to the family is vital.

Chaplaincy duties have changed somewhat in that we are restricted from being able to do our normal pastoral rounds each day on the wards.

We provide the chaplaincy services on request from the patients or their families. We are also reaching out to family members who make contact with us on the phone. Patients are anointed and prayed with as requested.

Like all who are working on the frontline at this time, the support and the prayers of the public is very much appreciated. I would simply say a very sincere “THANK YOU”.

Please continue to pray for all of us and especially for the patients and their families and all staff at the front line right now. This virus can come to anyone of us. For that reason, let us be there for each other and care for each other with the spirit of the healing Christ in our hearts who loves us and cares for us.

Fr. Marius O’Reilly, Mercy Hospital Cork

I have been blessed to work in the Mercy University Hospital, in the heart of Cork City, for nearly three years now.  Every day is simply an adventure.  No two patients are the same!  And…neither are their relatives!  It is very fulfilling work – thank God.

The hospital has had to prepare before for viruses like the SARS and Bird Flu, but the scale of the recent experience of Covid19 was something we had not experienced before.  We simply did not know what to expect.

Truth be told, we expected a hurricane.  Pictures coming primarily from hospitals in China and Italy at the time did paint a certain picture.  The constant media coverage however had an unexpected impact; as fear took hold, patient numbers began to decline, and I found my role was changing slightly.  With far fewer patients in the hospital, I found myself spending more time with staff and trying to console them.  I sensed a lot of fear.

As a priest I thought about what I could do, and as always, I knew prayer was the answer.  We started adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every day, and staff began to come.  The smell of incense made some curious.  I also distributed Psalm 91, which invokes God’s protection.  Inspired by people from all over the world, I also distributed images of the Divine Mercy to the staff, so they could put them on their front doors at home for protection.

As more Covid19 patients began to arrive, we quickly became used to gowning up and going into them.  It’s now just part of what we do.  Humans adapt quickly.

I never fail to be inspired by our health care workers.  They are very practical people, and just get stuck in.  Their instinct to care is amazing to behold.  It is wonderful to be part of their team.

Fr. John Kelly, Chaplain, Tallaght University Hospital

The work of healthcare chaplains is face-to-face – listening compassionately, connecting immediately and loving unconditionally. COVID-19 has challenged and changed the way we provide this pastoral care. On Holy Thursday, I visited a 91 year-old patient with  coronavirus. A beautiful person who attended daily Mass. After a pastoral conversation we prayed together, celebrated the Sacrament of the Sick and she received Holy Communion. Ann had not spoken to her only brother since she was hospitalised. I connected Ann to her brother and they had a conversation which turned out to be her last as she died peacefully a short time later.

On Good Friday, I visited a patient I had met on many occasions during her treatment for
cancer. She recognised my voice behind the protective mask and goggles. Having listened to her fears and sense of isolation I was able to connect her by Zoom to her husband and sons. This was the last time they were able to see and hear their Mother’s voice. After her death the nurse and I placed a wooden cross in her hand as we prayed for her.