Pastoral care for the sick in times of Pandemics
Our team caught up with Fr. Salifu and asked for his view on what a pastor can do in caring for the sick during times of Pandemics such as Covid-19.
"We teach the men at St. John's [Seminary] that priests run into the burning building, not away from it." This is a quote from Fr. MacDonald who is part of a group of priests in Boston diocese who have been trained to administer the sacrament of anointing of the sick on Covid-19 patients. He was excited that finally they could run into the burning building and not away from it.
If there is a dilemma that priests and pastoral care givers are grappling with now, it is to wonder whether running into the building would constitute a suicide mission or constitute a pastoral care which comes with a risk because eventually every pastoral care comes with a risk since it involves the self-giving of the pastoral care giver. Reading the experiences of priests in these times, I have come to appreciate that pastoral care cannot be the same everywhere. A pastor must know his parish (by parish I do not mean where the church building or church land is situated, but the community in which the church is found) better than anyone and must design a response to care for the sick in his community in a way he knows would reveal the love of Christ. He may not get it right because he has never been in this situation before. He may or may not get it right but what is important is that he is innovative and tries to reach out to his people. Some of the initiatives may also not be within his ability and may need a certain unified initiative either by the diocese or a deanery.
Some initiatives can and should be taken by pastors and others must be done in collaboration with the diocese or parish. One wonders what is happening to those in isolation centres and whether or not they are receiving any form of pastoral care, whether from a Catholic pastor or a non Catholic pastor. Such an initiative can be taken easily by the church if the hospital in question is a Catholic hospital. If it’s a government hospital as many of the cases are, then the engagement of Christian church leaders with government should not only be about the possibility of reopening public worship to help people deal spiritually with this pandemic and help them stay hopeful, but it should also be about how in the treatment of those who are already contracted, pastoral care could be offered. WHO defines health as a state of wellbeing that involves all the dimensions of man: psychological, biological and spiritual. All these dimensions work together for the wellbeing of man. Definitely among those infected are parishioners whose pastors may not even know they are infected and are under treatment. Among the infected are many Christians longing to hear the reassuring voice of a shepherd who would minister Christ to them. Among them may be believers in God who may not be Christians but would have the experience of Christ in our ministry. Among them are non believers in God who may find God in this situation.
To ask concretely what a pastor can do in caring for the sick, I may find it difficult to give examples because we are still trying to figure out how to reach out to the sick. But in doing so, the attitude should be borne out of love more than out of fear. Love takes precaution in caring for another, fear does not take precaution, it just avoids the whole situation altogether and either does not move or runs away from the burning building.