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Father Javier Julio, associate pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Shrewsbury, Mass., blessed face masks made by a parish ministry of 30 people March 28. Father Julio is one of the priests trained as a minister to the sick amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Father Javier Julio, associate pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Shrewsbury, Mass., blessed face masks made by a parish ministry of 30 people March 28. Father Julio is one of the priests trained as a minister to the sick amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Kelly Paulina | St. Mary’s Catholic Church

Diocese designates, trains younger priests as special ministers to sick

WORCESTER, Mass. — For one priest, it’s a chance to serve people with his love of languages.

For another, it’s an opportunity to use his previous studies.

For all priests in the Diocese of Worcester, ministry to the sick and dying in these days of the coronavirus pandemic is changed.

Nineteen priests in the diocese have been trained to be designated ministers to the sick, according to Msgr. James P. Moroney, director of the diocesan Office for Divine Worship.

Because of the danger COVID-19 presents to the priest and to avoid a large number of priests passing on the virus to others, a limited number of well-trained younger priests have been appointed by Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester for this special ministry, Msgr. Moroney said.

“They … are being trained to take the proper precautions to safeguard their health and the health of those with whom they come in contact,” Msgr. Moroney explained in his office’s monthly newsletter, Orantes. Other arrangements, such as disposable printouts of the rites and special oil of the sick, were put into place.

Under normal circumstances, all priests would visit the sick in the homes and care facilities and often visit their sick parishioners who are in the hospital. At this time, all regular pastoral and in-home visits are suspended, Msgr. Moroney said. The designated ministers can anoint the sick, hear their confessions and give them Communion.

Father Dario Acevedo said he thought the idea was “to follow the call that Pope Francis gave to not abandon the people of God.” He figured Bishop McManus was listening to that and also trying to keep people safe.

On a list of designated ministers Father Acevedo was identified as speaking three languages — English, Spanish and Portuguese. “I love languages,” he told The Catholic Free Press, Worcester’s diocesan newspaper. “I can serve more people” because of the ability to speak different languages. Other ministers speak Polish, Twi and Swahili.

Father James M. Boland, another designated minister and pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Rutland, Massachusetts, can use his studies in this ministry.

“I have a background in the medical field,” he said, explaining that he studied athletic training/sports medicine for four years before he entered seminary. The new ministry is calling upon knowledge he hasn’t had to use much, he said. With this background, of course he agreed to participate — for the sake of the older priests and to serve the people — he said.

All other priests were urged to remain in the rectory and maintain phone, email and social media contact with parishioners. If a person under their spiritual care is in need of a pastoral visit, they are to contact one of the new ministers in their area.

Priests referring their sick parishioners to these designated ministers “should ascertain if the sick person has been diagnosed with the virus, if they are exhibiting symptoms or if they have come into contact with someone who was exposed to the virus,” said directives from the Office for Worship.

“Our designated priest ministers need this information to determine what kind of precautions to take. They have been instructed that if they are inadvertently exposed to a person with the virus without the benefit of mask and gloves they must self-quarantine for 14 days,” the directives explain.

Bishops dedicate Americas to Our Lady of Guadalupe during pandemic

MEXICO CITY — Latin American and Caribbean bishops have dedicated the Americas to the care of Our Lady of Guadalupe, praying for her “maternal protection” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a closed-door Mass celebrated Easter, April 12, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes prayed to the patroness of the Americas, asking her to transform “our fear into joy” and to comfort the afflicted.

“In these moments, like (St.) Juan Diego, feeling ‘small’ and fragile in the face of illness and pain, we lift our prayers and dedicate ourselves to you,” Cardinal Aguiar prayed. “We dedicate our peoples to you, especially your most vulnerable children: the elderly, the young, the ill, the indigenous, immigrants, the homeless, inmates. We come before your immaculate heart and we implore your intercession: provide us, from your son, health and hope. Most Holy Virgin Mary … strengthen the moribund and comfort those who cry. May your maternal caress comfort the sick and may you accompany the health professionals who care for them. And, for all of us, Mother, be present and tender, and in your arms may we all find safety.”

Canadian priest volunteers to be incarcerated rather than leave inmates

TORONTO — With the federal prison system shutting down all visits, a Catholic priest has volunteered to be incarcerated rather than leave inmates without spiritual care.

“He offered to go there and live in the institution 24-7,” said Bishop Gary Gordon of Victoria, British Columbia. “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.”

As COVID-19 infections begin to emerge in prisons, spiritual care for inmates has dwindled amid growing anxiety over the dangers faced by inmates and prison staff alike. Bishop Gordon said the priest who volunteered to remain with inmates has a deep and long commitment to prison ministry.

For privacy reasons, he would not divulge the priest’s name or location.

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