As a sign of his prayerful support, Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski visited with employees at three Catholic health care facilities Dec. 16.
“I feel as though I stand among heroes,” Archbishop Rozanski said on his first stop at Mercy Hospital South. “For many, you have been the family members who have stood by their beds, representing their families bringing them that comfort and healing and wholeness that they so seek,” he said.
The archbishop also visited with health care workers and hospital leadership at SSM St. Clare Hospital in Fenton and Ascension Health, which has its headquarters near Woodson Terrace. At each location, he offered a prayer and blessing, along with a crucifix similar to a "pandemic crucifix" installed earlier this year at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.
He shared the story of another "pandemic crucifix" at San Marcello Corso in Rome. The more than 500-year-old crucifix at San Marcello survived a fire that destroyed the church in 1519, and is popularly believed over the centuries to have intercessory power. During a plague epidemic in 1522, the crucifix was carried in a procession throughout Rome. When the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, Pope Francis had the crucifix brought to Rome on several occasions. In April, Archbishop Emeritus Robert Carlson commissioned a four-foot "pandemic crucifix" to be installed in the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.
The crucifix, Archbishop Rozanski said, “is a testament to the faith of the people of the archdiocese during this coronavirus pandemic.”
Noting that the archbishop’s visit coincided with the third week of Advent, Mercy Hospital South president Sean Hogan said there’s been an extra sense of hope, through the ongoing support of the community and the first doses of the vaccine given to employees earlier in the week. “It’s been a week of celebration for us, and that we see hope at the end of this pandemic,” he said.
SSM Health St. Clare Hospital president Tina Garrison said that health care workers often see their work as a calling rather than just a profession. “I am glad that they feel called, because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to do everything they need to do to support these patients,” she said. “It has been all hands on deck, and they have really risen to the challenge and done so cheerfully because they do think it is a calling. They’re the ones in the room where difficult conversations are held. And sometimes they’re the ones holding the hands of patients as they’re passing into the next world.”
The archbishop’s visit was a welcome reprieve in a culture that is permeated with negative and discouraging voices, said Dr. Guy Venezia, an OB/GYN at SSM Health St. Clare Hospital. “To bring a group of people together to have a powerful message around spirituality and working together and community — it’s really needed,” he said.
Venezia said he sees the presence of God the most when a new life enters the world. “It’s hard now when so many family members can’t come up” to the hospital, with a no-visitors policy currently in effect. “But you really see the presence of God when you have the whole family and a new baby, and everyone is celebrating a new birth.”