A Catholic priest in the central Philippines who posed as a pedicab driver and saved a couple from separation on Christmas Day last year is now a “COVID priest.”
Father Christian Benjamin started his “unconventional mission” after witnessing patients dying alone and helpless in a COVID ward in a hospital where he was serving as a chaplain.
The still unvaccinated priest admitted that he was afraid during the early days in his new assignment.
“My heart was throbbing when I first donned my [personal protective equipment,” he told LiCAS.news in an interview.
“One small mistake would mean that I would next,” he said, adding, however, that the fear was only in the beginning “until you finally conquer your fear.”
“When you finally see [it from] another perspective, you’ll finally say that this is a wonderful ministry,” said the priest.
“It’s true, it’s risky, but you no longer think about how risky it is if you want to help,” he added.
Father Benjamin said that working with COVID patients offered him a “different” face of the pandemic.
He said that inside the COVID wards in hospitals, patients are left alone connected only to various machines that keep them alive.
The priest said many would succumb to the virus despite all the efforts of the medical personnel.
Father Benjamin said some patients, weak as they are, would desperately reach out to hold him. He said he would hear them saying that they have already lost all hope.
“They find hope when they are given confession and the hope of going to heaven as they near their death,” he said.
The priest said he feels that “I am near God” every time he is with a COVID patient. “I see the patients as the Crucified Christ, helpless and can’t move.”
He admitted crying several times when anointing the sick.
One time, with tears in his eyer and alone with a patient, Father Benjamin turned away only to see images of Jesus and Mary on the wall.
He could not help but utter a prayer. “Thank you that you brought me to this place,” said the priest.
Life as a COVID priest is not easy, he admitted. He is always alone in isolation in his room when not visiting the COVID ward.
The support of his bishop, Julito Cortes of Dumaguete, has encouraged him to continue his mission.
“There’s no difference between [priests], doctors and nurses. We enter COVID rooms,” he said. “For us, who monitor their faith, we should be with [the patients], too.”
Last week, Bishop Cortes released a circular for the celebration of simultaneous Masses for those who died due to the pandemic on Monday, November 29.
In his letter, the bishop said there is an “appeal” from families of those whose loved ones have died of the virus for “closure.”
“Let us see this as an opportunity to serve the grieving families of COVID victims with the hope that this gesture can help them find closure for a loved one’s passing away under tremendously distressing circumstances,” said the bishop.
The Diocese of Dumaguete is finalizing plans to partner with other hospitals where Father Benjamin can minister to more COVID patients.