This priest found reasons for hope in a time of terrible tragedy.
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Fr. Gilvan Manuel da Silva, of the Congregation of the Mission, is the pastor of the Parish of Sts. Peter and Paul, in Fortaleza, Brazil. This past March and April, he had to face the death of his parents and two siblings, victims of COVID-19, in a space of only 6 days. His faith-filled reaction has moved the hearts of people around the world.
According to Catholic blog Ancoradouro, the parish priest received news on March 31 of the death of his father, Manuel Anísio de Sousa, and his brother Vicente Manuel de Silva.
Four days later, it was his mother, Antônia Rosa da Silva Sousa, who was unable to survive the complications resulting from her coronavirus infection.
On Monday, April 5, the priest also lost his sister, Rosa Maria da Silva, who had been intubated.
“I will continue loving you, Lord”
In the midst of the transition from Holy Week to the Easter Season, Fr. Gilvan met this cruel loss with a moving demonstration of faith.
On Instagram, the Lazarist priest wrote on Easter Monday, “Lord, you can take everything from me, but even so I will continue to love you.” Just two days earlier, on Holy Saturday, he had declared, “We suffer in the flesh what was lacking in the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Through a note, the Archdiocese of Fortaleza expressed its solidarity with Fr. Gilvan and his family, writing, “We reaffirm our faith, for Christ is Risen! He is alive and walks in front of us toward the Galilee of our life.”
Fr. Gilvan also received many expressions of grief, solidarity and prayer from friends and parishioners, some of which he shared on his Instagram profile.
“Four pieces of my heart”
This week, Fr. Gilvan shared on his Instagram these touching photos of his parents and siblings, accompanied by the caption that starts with, “Today I look at four pieces of my heart, synthesized in the words of Jesus: ‘Whoever believes in me will live.’”
He goes on to thank his bishop and other people who have been close to him during this difficult time.
On Thursday, April 8, he reached the hearts of internet users once again with another touching testimony: He shared how he was able to give the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to his parents in the hospital before they died.
Here is what Fr. Gilvan wrote on Instagram:
IT WAS A POWERFUL SCENE WHEN I ANOINTED MY MOTHER AND FATHER.
As I dressed myself in the hospital with the protective clothing, even though I knew it was a risk to be there with many infected from COVID-19, I remembered the Letter of James: “Is any of you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church, that they may pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). Then I realized it: I myself would be my father and mother’s priest.
It was an extreme moment of emotion and faith. I couldn’t say the words of the formula because my voice came in tears. Touching those hands and feet that so often ran to me to kiss and hug, and those hands which I so often touched to say: “A blessing, mother?” and “A blessing, father?” was like summarizing the priestly vocation: the priesthood is strictly an offering. I didn’t anoint to save them corporeally, but to preserve and prepare their souls for the great encounter with the bridegroom who is Jesus.
My mother, when she found out that the “nurse” who was rubbing the oil of anointing of the sick on her body was her priest son, immediately said: “My son, what are you doing inside the hospital? It’s too dangerous here, get out.” It takes a lot of faith to savor these final moments … I believe, Lord.
At a time when so many people around the world have lost loved ones to this pandemic, Fr. Gilvan’s example can help us experience our grief unapologetically, but with faith and hope.
The mysteries we celebrate at Easter remind us that Christ has made it possible for us to give transcendent meaning to our suffering by joining it to His Passion. And thanks to His Resurrection, death does not have the final word.