Chaplain at COVID-19 hospital: Convincing patients God doesn't abandon them is hard

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The coronavirus has dealt Italy an especially hard blow.

The country's flags are at half-mast. 

Military vehicles filled with caskets move in funeral processions. 

It's a time in which popes pray for the end of the pandemic, beneath the rain, in a deserted St. Peter's Square. 

Hospitals have become scenes of tragedy, where the full force of pain can be felt. That's how Gerardo Rodriguez tells it. He's a chaplain at Rome's main hospital treating coronavirus patients.

Chaplain at Spallanzani Hospital (Rome)
“Among the most difficult things we, as priests, are living during this time in this hospital, is having to accompany people who will die utterly alone. These days, I often find myself blessing a casket, alone, just the deceased and me. Sometimes one of the medical staff will record a video for the family, who is at home and cannot accompany their dead loved one.”

Fr. Gerardo recalls dramatic cases like the one of the 28-year-old woman. She gave birth two months ago and died alone in the hospital. Then there is the case of the man who asked for a priest before dying. To prevent contagion, Fr. Gerardo had to communicate with him from a distance, almost yelling, so that the sick man, with barely any strength left, could hear him.

Chaplain at Spallanzani Hospital (Rome)
“I asked him to make some gesture with his hand or foot, to show me that he was listening to what I was saying. I absolved him of his sins. I reminded him of God's love for him and told him that in this moment he was perhaps about to give his soul to the Creator. We prayed an Our Father together. We entrusted him to Our Lady. Every time I asked this man if he was listening and understood what I was saying, he responded by moving his hand or foot to show me that he was. Where is God in all of this? For me, He is in that sick man. For him, God was in my person. It's one of the most difficult things in this moment: making people understand that God hasn't abandoned them, but that He is there.”

Italy was the first European country to adopt drastic measures to face the pandemic. Its residents are confined within their homes, where they sometimes organize to sing together and uplift one another.

It is then that the empty streets of the Eternal City are filled with the music of popular Italian singers. From the iconic Piazza Navona, for example, one could make out the nostalgic notes from Ennio Morricone's soundtrack of “Once Upon a Time in America.”

Javier Romero
Translation: Claudia Torres

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