"In the pandemic, priests suffered intense emotional stress"
The pastoral care of those infected with COVID-19 is a challenge for hospital chaplains. Unable to be close to patients, they have had to give their spiritual support from a distance.
This is how Fr. Gerardo Rodríguez, chaplain of a hospital in Rome, recalls it.
Fr. GERARDO RODRÍGUEZ
Chaplain Hospital Spallanzani (Rome)
“It is one of the most difficult things to do right now. To help people understand that God has not abandoned them, that He is there.”
The situation is new and distressing. This is why the Italian Episcopal Conference asked for psychological help for its priests.
“Keep in mind that priests have sometimes been the only ones to have contact with patients who later died without seeing relatives or friends, without a funeral. Therefore, chaplains became that point of contact between dying people and the outside. This creates a very strong emotional stress.”
Psychiatrist Tonino Cantelmi has offered free therapy sessions for those who work on the frontline.
He says he was surprised to see priests were not only asking help for themselves. Sometimes they called to ask for advice on how to help doctors and nurses.
“The chaplains understood the suffering of medical personnel very well. Work stress, the dead and the rejection by others for fear of infection: many were forced to live alone, to withdraw from family. In some places, the neighbors asked them not to take the elevator.”
Tonino Cantelmi asks people to continue supporting those who are by the side of the sick as the worst is not yet over for them.
“We have studies of other epidemics in which people on the frontlines suffered post-traumatic stress disorders that lasted up to three or four years.”
In Italy, more than 120 priests have died. After doctors, chaplains are one of the groups most affected by coronavirus. Some died from old age and others from being close to the sick, offering them spiritual help.