Spanish coronavirus cleric victim, hospital chaplain tell of days of 'intensive priesthood'

Spanish coronavirus cleric victim, hospital chaplain tell of days of “intensive priesthood”

Two Spanish clerics – one a victim himself of coronavirus, the other a hospital chaplain tending to patients with the disease – have told of days of “intensive priesthood”.

– Sufferer: “Half victim, half witness”

One of the clerics, Jesuit Seve Lázaro, wrote an article published March 24 on the website of the Company of Jesus in Spain, from his isolation at home in the suburb of La Ventilla, in Madrid, after having tested positive for COVID-19.

“Having been touched by the coronavirus and having seen its claws first at home and then in the hospital – without me feeling different from anyone – makes me half victim and half witness, like many others. I think learning is about going from first to second”, Lázaro reflected.

– “The most bitter face of this pandemic: being infected and condemned to be alone”

Lázaro said he was “a victim, like so many people around me who endure and suffer”, in the midst of numbers that March 26 revealed that coronavirus has now infected in Spain over 56,000 people and killed over 4,000.

The Jesuit added he was a victim, too, “because I felt schizophrenically uninformed of what was really happening to me”.

“Because they never picked on the official phone numbers I called; the doctors denied I had the sickness prior to my admission”, Lázaro wrote.

“A victim, also, after having seen myself suddenly marked and singled out as someone to be immediately isolated and kept away from… That made me see the most bitter face of this pandemic: I am infected and condemned to be alone, isolated…

“How many rooms and houses have that mark and are given food through the door, or get a phonecall one lousy time a day from the medical centres, who let them die, just like Pepi, the sacristan of our parish”, Lázaro lamented.

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– “What an opportunity it is to learn to give thanks for the mystery of our fragility”

“But this experience of being a victim, which perhaps is the first, has to give way to another, that of witness, and this, at least in my case, has been the deepest and most fruitful experience”, the Jesuit continued.

“A witness, seeing how weakness brushes against me, settles in my life or invades me: it’s very hard to live in that place, for minutes, hours, days that become eternal…

“But at the same time it’s very fruitful, because I touch the humus and the earth of what I really am, an earthly being, finite, fragmented…

“How good that this blessed virus is making us all feel weak: specialists, politicians, health professionals, family members, and of course, the sick.

“What an opportunity it is to learn to adore and give thanks for the mystery of fragility and vulnerability that surrounds this adventure of my life”, Lázaro wrote.

Affirming that he began to recover from coronavirus only when he returned home to his mother, the Jesuit concluded his testimony:

“How wonderful it is that this pandemic is bringing us closer to the unconditional nature of life, which is death, but which is also love”.

– Hospital chaplain: “If God has put me here, it must be for a reason”

A very different experience to that of Lázaro’s was that recounted in El Confidencial Digital by Father Iñaki, a chaplain at Madrid’s Hospital Clínico who’s been on call for weeks of 100 hours or more attending to the COVID-19 sick and dying.

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But it’s not like the priest is complaining.

“If God has put me here, it must be for a reason”, he said.

– “Scenes that rip your soul apart”

Father Iñaki said that on ‘normal’ days in the Hospital Clínico, normally some 8-12 patients die.

That number, with the coronavirus pandemic, has now surged up to 30 or 40.

“That’s why we are here exercising an intensive priesthood, non-stop, because many patients appreciate us being close in these moments in which the cruel circumstances have left them almost alone”, Iñaki explained.

“The hardest thing these days for many patients is facing the disease alone. Phew. We don’t want anyone to feel that claw in their last moments of life; that’s why we’re here for whatever it takes”, the chaplain continued.

“Although the nurses and support staff are doing their best, there are scenes that rip your soul apart.

“I would like to tell the relatives who have not been able to say goodbye to their loved ones that all the patients I have cared for have died in peace”, Father Iñaki affirmed.

– “A lot of pain, but also a lot of hope”

“I see a lot of pain, but also a lot of hope and a lot of strong people who push on with an amazing capacity for not giving up before any difficulty”, the chaplain said.

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“I see it in these healthcare professionals every day.

“The healthcare professionals’ example of patience, dedication, real collaboration, is spectacular.

“Society doesn’t see it in the foreground, because the vast majority are at home, and that’s the way it should be, but this is an example of a special human greatness…”.

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.