Despite the more than 265,000 positive cases and 11,000 deaths now recorded worldwide, there’s relative ‘good news’, too, on the coronavirus front: the hero priests going beyond the call of duty in the battle against COVID-19.

– “My altar will be the bed of the sick”, says Italian priest returning to his first profession: pulmonology

One example of the brave clerics on the frontlines against coronavirus worldwide is Italian priest Father Alberto Debbi, who has decided to swap his cassock for a hazmat suit and return to the profession he originally practised before the priesthood: medicine.

“My altar will be the bed of the sick”, said the 43-year-old, who trained as a lung doctor and practised for twelve years before entering the seminary in 2013.

“There is a need at this time as never before to make available everything one has”, continued Debbi, who will return to the Sassuolo Hospital at which he practised from 2007-2013, before taking Holy Orders.

“I am a doctor who has specialized in the branch of which we now have a particular need and I certainly cannot back down”.

“The whirlwind of emotions in these hours is great… and I don’t hide the fact that I am a bit worried about returning to a profession I haven’t practiced for year”, the Italian priest of the diocese of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla admitted.

“But I am confident I can be of help once my rusty state [in medicine] that has inevitably formed has been eliminated”.

As further justification of his desire to return to the wards to tend to the coronavirus sick, Debbi said “since I was a boy… I wanted to do something to put the Lord’s gifts at the service of others”.

As for his ministry as assistant parish priest with special responsibility for youth ministry at the Beata Vergine delle Grazie pastoral unit in Correggio, Debbi admitted that now, returning to the hospital, “I will certainly be less reachable” for the young people, “but I have a cell phone and I will use social media to communicate with them”.

“And when I can, I will say Mass and pray and return to my parish when the coronavirus is over”, the priest, who already has a fan page, continued.

“I ask you for a personal prayer for me, because from Wednesday I will start my job again”, Debbi said on social media, in a message that has since gone viral.

– Rwandan hospital chaplain in Madrid: “People are on edge… but when they see a priest, their tenseness subsides”

Another example of a priest showing immense bravery on the coronavirus front is Father Gaetan Kabasha, a Rwanda native now working as a chaplain at Madrid’s San Carlos Hospital Clinic.

With 19,980 infected and 1,002 dead as of this Friday, Spain is the second-worst country in Europe affected by coronavirus, surpassed only by Italy, which today hit 47,021 infections and 4,032 fatalities.

From the Spanish capital, Kabasha admitted “this last week was frenetic”.

“Everything has radically changed. The medical staff knows what to do and they have their protocols. The relatives, as normal, are worried”, the priest acknowledged.

But the Rwandan is not letting the crisis get to him and his team of three other chaplains, determined as they are to stay the course in the coronavirus fight.

Even if, to go in to attend to the COVID-19 patients, the priests have to wear “a gown, mask, double gloves, eye protection and booties… just like the doctors”, as Kabesha related.

“We chaplains have decided to stay at the hospital and the Church is supporting us in this.

“It’s a very important value to relieve those who are in the hospital, the sick, family members, and medical personnel because they’re under constant stress.

“It helps them to see that you’re still there, and for the sick who have always been part of the Church, it is comforting to them to have a priest close by during their illness, and if it’s the case, at the end of their lives”.

“People are on edge, the relatives, the sick, the hospital staff… but when they see a chaplain walking through the hospital, their tenseness subsides a bit. They see that they’re not alone, that despite the situation we haven’t left”.

Novena’s full coverage of the European Church and the coronavirus pandemic:

Vatican insists even despite coronavirus Easter “cannot be transferred to another time”

Vatican allows general absolution in coronavirus pandemic, grants indulgences to sick, families, healthcare workers

Cardinal calls “blasphemy” belief coronavirus is punishment from God

“Roots, memory, brotherhood and hope”: Pope points way out of virus crisis as Italian president thanks him for “fatherly witness”

Is remote confession, absolution possible in coronavirus times? Pope, priest canon lawyer weigh in

Coronavirus: cardinal warns against unthinking “belief in miracles”

Pope encourages Italians battered by coronavirus: “Let us help each other hold fast to what really matters”

“Horror clown”, “cynical” Swiss bishop muzzled for “irresponsible and dangerous” coronavirus “superstition”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.