“There are tears, yes, but great hope too that something new will come from this”, a Spanish chaplain on call 24/7 for coronavirus patients has said.
– “A great excitement for helping people”
Father Benito Rodríguez Regueiro, chaplain at the Álvaro Cunqueiro Hospital in Vigo, on Spain’s northwest coast, spoke to the Atlántico newspaper March 28 about his work tending to patients of COVID-19 and to the healthcare staff who treat them.
At the clinic – and despite the fact that this Monday Spain’s toll from the coronavirus rose to 85,195 infected and 7,340 dead – “there’s a great excitement for helping people”, the priest said.
Among the staff, there’s “tiredness, tears, fear of infecting their own families, yes, but great hope too… that something new will come from this”, Rodríguez continued.
“Although, as in all wars, many people are left by the wayside, there are very generous gestures. Not a few shoes have fallen off from so much running around [on the part of the staff]”.
– “When I get it, if I get it, someone will replace me”
The chaplain at the Álvaro Cunqueiro Hospital explained that he’s now working 24-hour shifts in order to try and save his priest colleagues from contagion.
“I haven’t left the hospital”, he admitted.
“So that the other chaplains don’t get sick on me I decided to stay, and when I get it [coronavirus], if I get it, someone will replace me, but for the moment I’m here”.
– “When you have a ‘why’ to live, you find many ‘hows'”
Although Rodríguez does visit and bless the COVID-19 patients – always with the necessary safety precautions, including mask, gloves and hazmat suit – he said his work at the hospital mainly involves being an “encouraging… presence” in the emergency ward and in clinic corridors
The priest said, for example, that he has organised a letter-writing campaign for patients so as to boost their spirits.
“They’re anonymous letters from ordinary people, some of whom have overcome other illnesses and who tell stories and even invite reflection.
“We try to bring these letters to the sick through healthcare personnel, both at home and in the hospital.
“You have to take advantage of the loneliness [of being sick] because when you have a ‘why’ to live, you find many ‘hows’ to live”.
– “Every time you fall seriously ill you have to be very thankful and very forgiving”
Rodríguez continued by explaining the philosophy and theology of sickness that he draws on to comfort the patients of coronavirus.
“The problem is not that [the patient] is sick, but how the sick patient lives the sickness, because trying to calm and soothe is a struggle for the whole family, as well as a great opportunity for the patient to analyse how he or she is living this loneliness.
“It’s a time, even, to prepare to say goodbye to the world.
“Every time you fall seriously ill you have to be very thankful, very forgiving and very trusting”.
– “We have to start asking for forgiveness”
Asked what has surprised or scared him the most about the COVID-19 outbreak, Rodríguez deplored that he sees there’s “still a lot of pride, a lot of arrogance in human strength and in human solitude”.
“A nurse told me the other day that I must have a lot of work with so many burials. I replied: ‘I wish I had more work with more confessions’.
“I mean, we have to start asking for forgiveness, to want what we are experiencing now, which is that neighbours are talking to each other; to want that that not just be a thing of the moment”, the priest explained.
– “Several dozen” priests dead in Spain; 69 dead in Italy
In still remaining standing in his fight against the coronavirus, Rodríguez is one of the lucky priests in Spain, where to date COVID-19 has claimed the lives of “several dozen” clerics all over the country, according to unofficial Bishops’ Conference figures.
In Italy, meanwhile, 69 priests have now died from coronavirus, according to Italian Bishops’ newspaper Avvenire – some 1% of all those mortal victims of the disease.