Father Davide, a former missionary to Mexico, tells us about his experience as a Spiritual Assistant in a large hospital in Northern Italy at the time of the Coronavirus pandemic.
I am Fr. Davide Negrini, a Camillian religious and I have been serving as a Spiritual Assistant (Chaplain) at the Saint Claire Hospital in Trento for more than 4 years.
With the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, for a series of vicissitudes, the 3 chaplains present in this hospital were left alone to carry out day and night this task which consists of bringing the presence of Christ through the Sacraments in the encounter with the sick person, his family, and health workers.
During the day, I visit the wards, and when they call me, I am ready to assist at night. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been able to go around the wards, obviously with the necessary precautions, meeting with the sick, even if with the passing of time and when the severity of the emergency advances, it has been more but not impossible.
I entered several times, upon request, the COVID isolation wards dressed like an “astronaut.” The first patient to whom I administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick was Fr. Angelico, one of the first victims of the virus in Trentino.
To administer the Anointing of the Sick to the COVID patients in the 5 isolation wards and to avoid consuming too many personal protective equipment (PPE), as I would have to dress and undress in and out of each of the resuscitations, I adopted this system. While remaining in the “sterilize” room of the ward, I gave a cotton swab soaked with Holy Oil to the nurse who would anoint the patient on his forehead. At the same time, I would stand outside the door or behind the insulating wall and pray for the patient, his family, and the health workers involved in this great mission. The staff were very cooperative, happy, and excited to be involved in this precious service, so much so that some, amazed, said to me: “Father, can I do it?” or “Can I say a prayer too?”.
A priest, a professor of Church History, told me that: “...the Jesuit missionaries, in 1600 in China, not being able to physically touch women, because of the local culture, to give them the sacramental anointments of Baptism and the Sick, used wooden rods with cotton soaked in Holy Oil. You did the same thing only that instead of the wooden rods, you used the nurse’s arm and hand.”
I was asked if I wasn’t afraid, but I replied that, with due caution, I am not scared. I think it’s riskier to go to a crowded supermarket where you’re not protected, and you don’t know who you’re meeting. Moreover, when I chose to enter the Order of Camillians, in addition to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, I also accepted a fourth vow, which is that of serving the sick, even in situations involving life-threatening situations. This seemed a vow of yesteryear when there was plague or cholera. We are talking about a vow instituted by St. Camillus at the end of 1500, a time when many religious sacrificed their lives in caring for the sick.
In the last few years, this thing seemed to have lost some of its meaning, but…
My presence in the hospital, which is the presence of the Church, served as a word of encouragement, support, and prayer for the staff who needs to unload his emotions. One confessed to me that at the end of the shift, on the way home he cries alone in the car to unload a little bit and to arrive in the family with a semblance of “normality,” a presence with the COVID patient as well as the “ordinary” patients who are forced to stay in hospital in these days deprived of the visit of the family members who are not allowed to enter the hospital; a presence also served to the family members who have thus learned that their loved one was not “alone” at this time but surrounded by prayer, professionalism, and love of many good people.