WINDSOR TERRACE — Two weeks ago, the Archdiocese of Chicago, under the leadership of Cardinal Blase Cupich, decided to recruit a group of volunteer priests to visit and give last rites to terminally ill coronavirus patients.
The pandemic has left Catholics around the world without access to the sacraments. Measures taken by medical authorities to contain the pandemic include restricting family visits to hospitals. The measure has resulted in many people dying in the hospital without the company of their family and many Catholics dying without a visit from a priest.
During this pandemic, Catholic patients often talk with their priest by phone to pray together, but sacraments can’t be administered over the phone. Having access to the sacrament of anointing of the sick or last rites when a person is in danger of dying is extremely important and consoling for Catholics.
“In our Catholic tradition, to have the last rites is a privilege and a deep desire for a person to make their peace with God before they meet God,” said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.
When asking for volunteers, the archdiocese contacted priests who are under 60 years old and don’t have a chronic illness. Once the volunteers were selected, the archdiocese, with the help of medical professionals, offered them a training session. The priests learned the proper protocols to visit coronavirus patients and also received all the necessary protective equipment.
Now, the archdiocese has a team of 24 priests ministering to COVID-19 patients.
If a family member calls their parish to have a priest visit a person who is gravely ill with COVID-19, the parish notifies the archdiocese. Then, one of the priests is sent to administer the anointing of the sick or the last rites.
When they visit patients, they wear PPE and follow hospital rules. Each visit usually lasts no more than five minutes.
One of the priests, Father Matt O’Donnell, 34, is young and healthy but understands the risk involved in
this special ministry.
“All of us realize this is what our priesthood is meant to be about,” he said. “It’s to bring Christ to people and to bring a sense of hope to people.”