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COVID-19: A pastor’s perspective: A Day of Pastoral Care at a Local Hospital

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Father David BonnarEvery Saturday our parish is responsible for the pastoral care of the local hospital so that the chaplain has a day off. I took the coverage on Holy Saturday. It happened that I was called three times during that day to confer the anointing of the sick on patients in different units.

When I arrived at the hospital, it was desolate. There was a sign that read, “Hospital Temporarily Closed to Visitors Due to COVID-19 Pandemic.” There were only a handful of cars in the parking garage.

As I arrived at the reception area wearing my mask and latex gloves, it was immediately evident that it was not business as usual. The receptionist was seated by a security guard. The first thing they asked me was why I was there and who I wanted to see. Then they asked if I had had contact with anyone who had the virus. I had to explain that my assistant had contact. He was subsequently tested and it was negative, but we still did 14 days of self-isolation. They both looked at each other surprised to hear that revelation. The security guard noted that they would be taking my temperature.

I then was directed to a back parking lot near a loading dock where I was led into the building. There was this large room in which two healthcare workers were wearing scrubs with face masks and gloves. One of them was holding a gunlike temperature gauge. They placed it near my head and said, “You are good to go.” They gave me a badge to wear showing that I was authorized to enter the hospital.

This whole experience was disarmingly disorienting. I previously had visited the hospital many times, but on this day it was so different and even scary. I know that they often speak about the quiet stillness of Holy Saturday, but this was surreal. I actually became lost and had to ask someone for directions. I totally understand the reasons for these new measures as we need to stop the spread.

One of the graces we priests can bring to someone in these moments, apart from the sacrament, is a smile. It is hard to see a smile behind a face mask. This was very difficult for me each time I was called to the hospital. I wonder what it was like for them.

During the second visit that day, I was asked to go to ICU. My heart began to race as I knew what a hot spot that is in every hospital right now. None of the patients I saw were COVID-19 patients. But who knows? I spoke with one doctor whom I have known for years and he said of the virus, “We have not seen anything like this before.”

As I left after visiting the hospital for the third time that day there were two takeaways. First, I found great strength and peace in the healthcare workers who were still doing their job and doing it ever so professionally at a difficult time. Watching them reminded me about my own responsibility as a priest regardless of the conditions. Second, there are still many sick people in our hospitals that do not have COVID-19, but they just as much are in need of prayers, God’s grace and the presence of a priest. I felt so blessed to be there for those people and bring some comfort and peace to them in the name of Jesus.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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