As the United States passed 500,000 deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, a small group gathered for Mass Feb. 23 at CHI St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock to remember those who have died and the health care workers who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic.
The Mass in the hospital chapel, which was celebrated by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, was broadcast to patients on an internal TV channel, as are all Masses in the chapel. It was attended by eight people, including hospital CEO Chad Aduddell.
“This Mass is being offered in honor of the lives of those who have succumbed to COVID-19, both in our hospital and throughout the state of Arkansas; to lift up in prayer those souls and their families. And also our coworkers who have devoted so much of their time and energy to this amazingly unique situation that we have faced,” Michael Millard, director of mission integration at CHI St. Vincent, said before Mass began.
A former emergency room nurse for 12 years, Father Warren Harvey is a chaplain at St. Vincent for the past four years and concelebrated Mass. He said the chapel is a respite for health care workers.
Amanda Matkovic, a nurse in medical oncology and pre-postulant for the Daughters of Charity, is one of those workers who frequents the chapel.
“I can’t do this job without faith. I know God is with me in every moment,” she said. “... I hope this pandemic has helped us all realize how dependent we are on each other and on God. That it is him who sustains us.
While Matkovic does not ordinarily work with COVID-19 patients, she was pulled onto the COVID floor Christmas Eve.
Most poignantly, she remembers a man leaving the hospital, having recovered from COVID-19 and completed his quarantine. His fear was no longer about the virus, but about the financial hardships he and his wife were facing, both working in the food service industry.
“They were struggling with real food insecurity … I think it really put a face to that for me, the face of unemployment.”
Our Lady of the Holy Souls parishioner Linda McNutt, executive assistant to the CHI administration, said it was an honor to attend the Mass.
“You have to have faith. You can never lose your faith,” she said, adding that the vaccines have been a clear sign of hope.
Following the Gospel reading of Matthew 6:7-15, Bishop Taylor said in his homily there are six “Ps” of prayer gleaned from the “Our Father,” which Jesus gave to the people to teach them how to pray -- presence, praise, purpose, petition, pardon and protection. Those six directives, along with the seventh of persistence, can be applied to the pandemic.
“We place ourselves in God's presence, we place ourselves in God's hands and we praise him for carrying us through to this point. We praise him for the scientists who have come up with vaccines, we praise him for the courage and fidelity of our health care workers and we praise him for the way we see his hand moving among us. And then we commit ourselves to his purposes, that his kingdom may come, that his will be done in all that we do.”
Asking to “forgive those who trespass against us” is especially relevant for health care workers who see individuals not wearing masks or “engaging in risky behavior,” he added.
For Father Harvey, the deadliness of COVID-19 has enveloped his life -- from the patients he has given anointing of the sick to the loss of two of his sisters to the virus. He said the “pain of suffering” has been a daily theme.
“Just trust and faith that God will lead you through it. You know when we pray, we pray not so much that God will keep things away from us. Keep all harm away, but each morning I pray, ‘God give me the strength to get through whatever you send my way,’” he said.
He has made about 50 “last rites” kits he’s given or mailed to diocesan priests to anoint Catholic COVID-19 patients. Father Harvey said each kit, which has a cotton ball soaked in oil and copies of the prayers, stays with that patient and is incinerated.
Father Harvey said one anointing was particularly powerful, as a 95-year-old Black woman reminded him of his mother Mary, who was 96 at the time of her death.
“I said ‘Miss Theresa, I’m Father Harvey, we’ve known each other for a long time. I’m going to do the sacrament of the sick and hopefully that will get you to heaven with God’s grace and mercy and our prayers, prayers of the Church.’ And I said, ‘Oh, Miss Theresa, can you do me a favor? Tell my mom hello for me.’”
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