Answering his calling, this priest puts the spritual care of others above his own life.
With nursing homes, hospitals, and prisons all restricting visits during this period of quarantine, there are many individuals who will not be receiving the spiritual support they so badly need. Yet there are many priests and religious putting their lives on the line to ensure that patients, isolated seniors, and inmates still have their spiritual needs fulfilled. In fact, the Catholic Herald recently reported that up to 60 Italian priests have died of COVID-19 while trying to continue their ministry.
So when one priest heard that the prison in which he normally ministers was blocking all visitors, he offered to be incarcerated with the inmates 24/7. As Bishop Gary Gordon of Victoria, British Columbia shared with Catholic News Herald: “For a bishop to hear that from a priest, you say ‘OK, this is what it’s all about. This is the vocation — lay it on the line.’ It’s really beautiful.”
Bishop Gordon, who is the representative of prison ministry for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, explained that the priest has had a profound commitment to ministering in prisons for a long time. By remaining with the prisoners, he reduces the risk of contaminating those he would see on the outside as well as inside the prison. The priest wished to remain anonymous for reasons of privacy.
The priest’s calling to serve these prisoners does not come without risk. As Bonnie Weppler, the executive director of the Church Council on Justice and Corrections pointed out, the virus spreads easily in confined areas i– just look at what’s been happening in nursing homes throughout the world. This has also been seen in the rapidity in which coronavirus spread on cruise ships.
Although many penitentiaries are aiming to reduce their prison population by releasing inmates who would be eligible for release in the near future, there are many who remain incarcerated and who need the comfort of someone to minister to them.
It’s a dilemma that many priests are faced with. “If someone is gravely ill, then the priest should be allowed to bring them the holy anointing of the sick and viaticum,” explained Bishop Gordon.
While we are called to pray for prisoners as well as the sick and those who care for them, we should also pray for the priests and religious men and women who continue to serve the most vulnerable and put their own lives at risk in doing so.