Although the public celebration of the Mass has been suspended in much of the world to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, Catholic priests are still trying to minister to their flock, even at the risk of their own health.
Donned with protective gear, many priests are continuing to give the last rites. Many dioceses, such as Santiago in Chile, have been giving special training in conjunction with healthcare professionals so that priests can visit hospitals and hospices with minimal risk to themselves or their patients.
Hundreds of clergy around the world have paid the ultimate price for answering similar calls: At least 109 priests have died in Italy, and the Spanish bishops conference announced Monday that scores of priests have died in recent weeks, with their deaths “in one way or another being related to their ministry” during the coronavirus crisis.
In Argentina, the Emergency Priestly Service – which goes by different names in different dioceses, but allows any person to request a priest by telephone – has gone from being a service available only at night to one that works 24/7.
In the diocese of Parana, for instance, there are 120 volunteers, 30 of whom are priests. This is triple the usual number.
“We have received more calls than usual but from people who are outside the radius of the emergencies that we were handling, people who want to speak, who ask for prayer,” said Father José Barreto, who coordinates the service. “
He also said that when it comes to ministering beyond the phone, meaning, hearing confession or anointing the sick, priests must prudently discern when the cases are urgent or if the visit can be postponed. If more than one patient needs attention in one place, such as a hospital, priests must follow the necessary protocols.
To ensure that priests and religious living in countries in need are able to continue to provide pastoral and charitable support to the people entrusted to their care, even during the coronavirus pandemic, Aid to the Church in Need has set up a special fund and is asking for donations.