The Archdiocese of Chicago has assembled a team of 24 priest volunteers— all under age 60, and without pre-existing medical conditions— to administer sacramental anointing of the sick to Catholics with COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic.
Father Matthew O’Donnell, pastor of St. Columbanus Parish on the city’s South Side, has been a part of the team for about three weeks, and told CNA that so far he has anointed two people with COVID-19.
“I know that all of us who are doing this ministry in Chicago right now are doing it because we believe that this is what we’re called to do as priests, to be present to people,” Fr. O’Donnell told CNA.
“And I think all of us are knowledgeable of the risks, but the importance of the sacrament outweighs that.”
The archdiocese is divided into six vicariates, or regions. Within each one, O’Donnell said, the archdiocese wanted to ensure that there were at least four priests available that could handle the vicariate’s anointing needs, while also ensuring that no one priest is called to every single COVID-19 patient in his area.
He said pastors can call the archdiocese to let them know about a parishioner with COVID-19, and the archdiocese will then reach out to a member of the volunteer priest team to convey the patient’s name, the hospital where they are located, and any other pertinent information.
When he first offered to volunteer, Fr. O’Donnell said he thought it would be a while before he actually got a call to anoint a COVID-19 patient.
In reality, the day after he agreed to volunteer, the priest received his first request.
“Knowing that there’s not a lot of young priests that are here, that was what made me want to volunteer. Making sure the priests in my area who might overage, or have other health issues, and I knew I wanted to volunteer for that reason,” he said.
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