Signs of hope for the suffering

Priests share experiences of visiting and anointing COVID-19 patients

One night, Father Emanuele Fadini, FSCB, was called to anoint a COVID-19 patient on the verge of death. It was the first time Father Fadini had witnessed the symptoms of COVID-19 he had only read about in the news; the patient was gasping for air and unable to breathe, almost as if he was drowning.

Up to that point, all of the COVID-19 patients he had visited in the hospital were unconscious. This man was not.

“He was in agony,” Father Fadini recalled. “That was the only time I saw a conscious patient diagnosed with COVID-19 in the ICU.”

Because the patient was still conscious, Father Fadini was able to hear his confession, anoint him with the oil, and give him what the Church calls “food for the journey,” or the viaticum, in the form of the Eucharist.

He also gave the patient his rosary. He told Father Fadini that he used to pray in the past, but then he stopped. Father Fadini encouraged the patient to hold it, and if he could, to pray with it, assuring him that the Blessed Mother “was there, more real than myself and was going to receive the tears of this man and bring them to Christ, preparing his soul and body for the Lord.”

The patient did not survive. When Father Fadini left him, he did so bearing the pain of his gasping and his panting. At the same time, he gave thanks to God.

“Thanks God that you are,” he said. “Because this man found you again.”

Quietly, priests have been visiting sick and dying patients in hospitals, offering the sacraments to those who need them most. While some hospitals are not allowing priests to visit those infected with the novel coronavirus, priests remain ready and willing to go to the ones that are. Anytime, day or night – if they receive a call, they go.

Medical professionals and researchers around the world are learning more about the novel coronavirus with each passing day, but its increased threat for older people and those with underlying health conditions seems to be a general consensus among them. As hospitals within the Archdiocese of Denver began to admit more COVID-19 patients, the Vicar for Clergy asked the younger priests of the archdiocese to volunteer to administer the Sacraments of the Sick to those who needed it.

Father Fadini, associate pastor at Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Broomfield, is just one priest of many within the archdiocese who freely volunteered.

“I have visited about 15 sick people with COVID so far,” Father Fadini told the Denver Catholic. “I am provided with all the gear. When I visit the hospital, I follow the procedures. I know that I am exposed to a risk. And definitely my precautions are not to put anyone else at risk that I am in touch with later.”

Father Fadini has been visiting COVID-19 patients in Centura Health facilities near his parish, where he has heard confessions and administered anointings of the sick to those who request it. The opportunity to do so, he said, has “been a grace for my priesthood.”

The power of anointing

As a priest, besides the specific precautionary measures, Father Fadini’s modus operandi for visiting a person with COVID-19 remains the same as when he visits a person suffering from any other illness.

“When you see a sick person, you approach that person as Christ, as the living body of Christ,” he said.

In addition to the traditional anointing with oil that is commonly associated with the anointing of the sick, this sacrament also includes the viaticum, or “food for the journey,” in the form of the Eucharist. However, if a person is not conscious, the priest can only perform the anointing with the oil.

In one recent visit to a hospital, Father Fadini anointed a COVID-19 patient who was unconscious.

Priests of the Archdiocese of Denver have been quietly visiting patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in hospitals that allow them and performing anointings of the sick.

“I put on the full gear, the particular mask and the gown. When I entered, I saw the person was unconscious. Totally unconscious. So I gave the anointing. I could only give the anointing, of course, at that point,” he recalled.

This particular visit, however, spurred in him a memory of a woman he anointed two years ago who recovered from her illness.

“[I remembered] a previous experience of another sick person I visited two years ago who told me that when she received the anointing, she clearly also felt in her body a startling recovery,” he recounted. “Of course, this is a sort of a grace that is given to everybody. We know that it can work without visible effects, and especially spiritually.”

Keeping in mind the experience of this parishioner from several years ago, Father Fadini also prayed for the healing of the COVID-19 patient he anointed, and eventually she recovered. “I was moved by the tears of the husband, who was assisting with the rite over the phone, which was held close to me by the doctor. His tears brought me to dare to implore for her healing.”

In her gratitude, she wrote a short letter to Father Fadini.

“She wrote that the anointing, my visit and the faith of all the ones who prayed around her for her literally kept her here on Earth,” he said.

A call to conversion

The Lord is always calling his people to conversion. In normal, everyday life, the call to offer trials and sufferings up to him is ever-present. However, in the midst of this pandemic, when fear and uncertainty are rampant, this call to conversion becomes even more urgent.

But what is the basis of this fear? Catholics and Christians rely on the hope evident in the resurrection of Christ to cast aside all fear and doubt. This fact is especially pertinent in the Easter season the Church is currently in. Even so, the fear of death and suffering lingers, especially as the numbers of those people who have died as a result of COVID-19 dominate headlines.

However, as Father Francesco Basso puts it, this fear is a deception of the enemy. It is not from God.

“Death is not the problem. We will all die,” Father Basso said. “In this Easter time, the resurrection announces that death has already been destroyed. The real problem is the fear of death, which is what comes from the suggestions of the devil.”

Father Basso is the parochial vicar at St. Louis Parish in Englewood, and like Father Fadini, he has also been visiting COVID-19 patients and administering anointings of the sick. He responds to calls from Swedish Medical Center in Denver and various nursing homes in the Denver area.

“When you see a sick person, you approach that person as Christ, as the living body of Christ.”

Rather than waiting until a person is on the verge of death, Swedish Medical began calling priests in the morning to come and anoint those who are infected with COVID-19.

“This was a smart idea,” Father Basso said, “because this means that we are not obliged to wait for the last moment when they are unconscious.”

In visiting those suffering from COVID-19, Father Basso has witnessed hearts open to hearing and embracing the love of God. He encouraged one man who was Catholic but had been away from the Church for years to return. He heard the confession of a woman who had also been away from the Church for many years and invited her to receive the mercy of God.

“Those cases are truly incredible,“ Father Basso said.

The call to conversion extends beyond just those infected with COVID-19, however. It is just as evident in the priests who are visiting the sick and offering prayers for an end their suffering. Just before the cases of COVID-19 began to spike in Colorado, Father Fadini became very ill. He was tested for the virus, but the test came back negative. However, he believes that the Lord used the suffering he endured in his illness to prepare him for what was to come.

“It brought me to really change my way of praying and suffering, brought me to reciting some psalms to really ask the Lord for life,” Father Fadini said.

“Why do I bring this up? Because when I recovered, I resumed the visits the sick and the hospital staff,” he continued. “That experience brought me again to feel compassion for the pain of the people and I stopped being in a hurry, because when I was sick the feeling to be a burden for others was painful, while the best balm for me was to see my religious brothers and friends ‘wasting’ their time with me, who was unable to do anything for them.

“Christ is using my humanity. He is not sending a robot consecrated as a priest. With the affections that I feel for today, he sends me. It’s Christ calling me to meet Him in the person who suffers and is sharing in the cross of Christ.

“And in doing so, He is molding my heart, forming me to see that He is the true fulfillment. And because of that, I can be also a sign of hope for others.”

COMING UP: Banned books: Pushing back against the new ideology

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How would you know if you were being brainwashed? When something plainly false — contrary to common sense and right reason — is so constantly forced on you and you are not allowed to question it, it’s a good indication. This is the nature of ideology: imposing a position without truly establishing it or allowing it to be criticized. We have seen that something clearly opposed to the basics of scientific fact, such as the nature of sex as male and female, can be forced quickly upon American society through the influence of media and public education. And, perhaps not too surprisingly, even something as clear as 2+2=4 has been called into question by progressive educators, such as Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez, turning it into a sign of alleged oppression.  

In our time, dystopian novels have become reality. George Orwell best described the use of ideology in modern political regimes through doublethink, newspeak, and thoughtcrime. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the main character, Winston Smith, is coerced to accept that 2+2=5, showing his allegiance to ideology over reality. Orwell speaks of the way ideology gains power over the mind: “The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them.” This domination does not broker any opposition: “It is intolerable . . .  that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be.” If the truth can circulate freely, then ideology will fail.  

You might ask how the acceptance of ideology differs from accepting the mystery of faith, which requires our obedience to God. A key difference is that God’s revelation makes sense even while beyond reason. God does not shut down our thinking but wants us to ask questions and continue to come to know him and his creation throughout our lives. Faith cannot contradict reason because they both come from God, from his gifts of revelation and creation. You know you are facing ideology, however, when it refuses any discussion of contrary views. Catholics have been accused of hate for refusing to go along with the new ideology of human sexuality. This ideology claims to speak truly of the reality of human life, although it doesn’t add up, contradicting itself and the clear facts of science. The fight for the future focuses on speaking the truth. Without the ability to think, discuss, and read freely, it will be hard to respond to the ideological wave overwhelming us. 

Throughout the country, however, great books and humanities programs are being shut down for their emphasis on the Western tradition. Cornell West, an African American philosopher at Harvard, writing with Jeremy Tate, speaks of the spiritual tragedy of one American university closing down its classics department: “Yet today, one of America’s greatest Black institutions, Howard University, is diminishing the light of wisdom and truth that inspired [Frederick] Douglass, [Martin Luther] King and countless other freedom fighters. . . . Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture.” For West and Tate, cancelling the Western canon shuts down the central conversation of the pursuit of wisdom that touches every culture.  

Canceling the pursuit of wisdom hits at the integrity of our culture itself, as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, another dystopian novel, focused on saving books from the fire set on wiping them out, explains: “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.” Books proved hostile in this all-too-real futuristic American society portrayed by Bradbury, undermining the state of contended distraction provided by an omnipresent virtual reality. The fight for truth necessarily entails the books we read and teach.  

In our current cancel culture, Catholics too are being silenced for speaking about reality. Amazon recently cancelled Ryan T. Anderson, who studied at Princeton and Notre Dame and now directs the Ethics and Public Policy Center, blocking the sale of its book on its platform for questioning transgender ideology. The book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement (Encounter Books, 2018), provides a well-researched and thought-out response to the movement overturning common sense and millennia of acquired wisdom. Even more than that, Anderson shows how we are experimenting on our children, subjecting them to practices of hormone therapy and surgery that have not been proven safe or effective. Anderson provides evidence of ideology at work, through its coercive attempt to force us to accept what contradicts clear scientific evidence: “At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person — in particular, that people are what they claim to be regardless of contrary evidence” (29).  

Anderson does not deny the need to help those who suffer from gender dysphoria, although the heart of the books focuses on whether or not we are willing to accept reality and to help others to do so. As Anderson explains, “determining reality is the heart of the matter, and here too we find contradictions … Is our gender biologically determined and immutable or self-created and changeable? … At the core of the ideology is the radical claim that feelings determine reality. From this idea come extreme demands for society to play along with subjective reality claims. Trans ideologues ignore contrary evidence and competing interests; they disparage alternative practices; and they aim to muffle skeptical voices and shut down disagreement. The movement has to keep patching and shoring up its beliefs, policing the faithful, coercing the heretics and punishing apostates, because as soon as its furious efforts flag for a moment or someone successfully stands up to it, the whole charade is exposed. That’s what happens when your dogmas are so contrary to obvious, basic, everyday truths” (47-48). Not only philosophers like Anderson, but many educators, doctors, scientists, and politicians have been cancelled for standing up to the blatant falsehoods of this ideology. 

Does 2+2=5? Is a man a man and a woman a woman? No matter the effect of hormones and surgeries, every cell in the body points to the biological reality of sex, along with a myriad of other physical and emotional traits. Shutting down study and debate does not get to the heart of the matter, the truth of reality and the way to help those who suffer. The ideology does not truly focus on tolerance of others or creating reasonable accommodations, as it seeks to impose itself and coerce us. The reinterpretation of Title IX manifests an “Orwellian fiat” by which sex discrimination, meant to protect women, now becomes a means to discriminate against them: “The Women’s Liberation Front highlights the strange transformation of Title IX into a means to deny privacy, safety, education opportunity, and equality to women” (190). Anderson’s book provides an essential overview of the goals of the transgender movement and how to respond to it from a philosophical and scientific perspective. We should not allow the book to be cancelled! 

The goal of this new ideology is not simply to accept and tolerate a particular position, but, as Orwell recognized, to change us. It constitutes an attempt to redefine what it means to be a human being and to change the way we think about reality. Anything standing in the way will be cancelled or even burned. The quick success of this movement, and other ideologies as well, should make us pause. Do we want our children to think freely and wisely or simply to conform to what is imposed on them without question?  

As Catholics, we are called to think in conformity with faith and reason, upholding the truth, even when inconvenient. We are called to continue to form our own minds and accept the reality of how God made us and how he calls us into relationship with him, as the true source of overcoming suffering and difficulty. If you are uninformed and unable to judge rightly and logically, you are more likely to become prey to the new ideology, especially as enforced by government control and big business. We need Catholic freedom fighters, those willing, with charity, to stop the burning of the great ideas and the cancelling of our own faith.  

Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash