Wednesday afternoon, Bishop Mark J. Seitz’s issued a statement on the diocese’s new initiatives for Pastoral Care for the sick, with special attention for those suffering from COVID
Below is Bishop Seitz’s complete statement.
Today is the anniversary of the first apparition of Mary at Tepeyac in Mexico in 1531. On this day, appropriately, we celebrate the indigenous man, San Juan Diego, to whom she appeared. At the time Juan Diego was preoccupied about the health of his dear Uncle
who was very ill. Mary, whom we have come to know under the title, Our Lady of Guadalupe, reassured Juan and later appeared to his Uncle and healed him.
Revealing God’s presence in difficult times and bringing spiritual and, sometimes, physical healing has always been the work of the Church, of which Mary is a part. We follow our Master’s lead, who brought healing and help to everyone he encountered during his historical time on earth.
This time of Pandemic has brought unique challenges to the Church’s healing mission. With churches closed to public services and people under variations of “Stay at Home” orders, and then hospitals and nursing facilities also closed to anyone not on their staffs,
our ministry to the sick has been greatly challenged.
Over the last 9 months, we have worked alongside medical professionals to help identify and train priests whose age and health would permit them to minister to COVID patients and to create systems that would effectively respond to the continuing specific needs throughout the pandemic.
Today we are pleased to be able to announce three initiatives that we pray will deepen our commitment to ministering to the sick, make more effective the Church’s ongoing ministry to the sick in general, and focus our pastoral care especially to patients struggling with the coronavirus.
1. Pastoral Care Hotline – We are working to establish a Pastoral Care Hotline that will be answered 24 hours a day/7 days a week by diocesan representatives who will be able to direct calls to priests or deacons who can promptly respond to a sick person’s need for prayer or the sacraments. One number will be made available for anyone — family members or medical personnel — to call when a priest or deacon is needed anywhere in El Paso County. Though first priority will be given to contacting the pastor of the person who is ill, COVID patients will be referred to priests who have been specially trained for this ministry.
2. Priests on Full Time COVID Ministry Assignment – For the duration of this Pandemic in our area I am assigning three priests to full time ministry for those who are suffering from COVID. All three are presently serving as Vicars (assistant pastors) in their respective parishes and have been consistently ministering to COVID patients throughout the pandemic. For the next three months, and as long as is needed, they are being released by me and by their pastors to concentrate their ministry on bringing the sacraments, prayer and spiritual counsel to those who have the coronavirus and to their families. They will also collaborate with the region’s health care professionals to offer spiritual support to those on the front lines caring for the sick. The priests are Fr. Michael Lewis from St. Mark’s, Fr. Ivan Montelongo from St. Raphael’s and Fr. Miguel Perez, from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
3. Virtual Pastoral Visits – Through the cooperation of hospital staff, clergy personnel will be providing spiritual care and support to patients through virtual connections upon request. Patients will connect virtually with a priest or deacon for a short visit, prayer or inspirational reading from the sacred scriptures. We will pilot this program at The Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus, but are in the process of expanding this program to other area hospitals soon.
I believe these steps will have a significant impact upon this ministry, so close to the heart of Jesus and so powerfully witnessed by his mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe, whom we honor in these days.
We ask that all the people of God join our clergy in this ministry by praying for the sick, for those who care for them, and for those who routinely face the risks inherent in this holy work.
Most Rev. Mark J. Seitz, DD
Bishop of El Paso