Spanish priest Juan Jose Segarra is living day after day this heart-rending situation of the pandemic in hospitals. In his case, as chaplain of the Clinical Hospital of Valencia, he accompanies the sick, the majority with COVID-19, and administers the Sacrament of Eternal Rest.
“Every time I administer the Anointing of the Sick, be it to the most seriously ill, elderly persons or the sick in general, I feel Christ’s presence with me in the room,” says the parish priest of the Most Holy Cross of Alaquas. “I feel I’m doing something valuable for that person and I feel confirmed in my faith and in my priesthood.”
Father Segarra was a co-operator in a very beautiful story lived by a father and a son, both sick with Coronavirus but admitted to different hospitals. A profound prayer for the dead was held in the Benimaclet cemetery for the eternal repose of Salvador’s father, attended by his brother, his daughter and his granddaughters.
God’s Love Is Creative and Clever
Father Segarra, a friend of the family, took part in the ceremony in the cemetery and made a video of it. The following day, March 28, the priest visited Salvador Jr, son of the deceased, to attend to his spiritual and human needs during his stay in hospital.
The chaplain mentioned the video and asked the son if he would like to see it. “Yes,” he said, without hesitating, “I want to say goodbye to my father.” He wept for some 10 minutes while watching his father’s burial. “There was silence and sadness,” recalled an article of the Archdiocese of Valencia.
Father Segarra said humbly that the idea “was a motion of the Holy Spirit. A light comes to one’s soul suddenly and one gets the idea. It’s not my merit but God’s. God’s love is creative and clever,” he adds.
Here is a translation of Zenit’s complete exclusive interview with Father Segarra.
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–Q: How are you accompanying the COVID-19 sick spiritually? What needs do you see in those affected by the sickness? Can you access their rooms without a problem?
–Father Segarra: We are accompanying the COVID-19 sick in keeping with the possibilities that the present circumstances allow. The hospitals’ guidelines have changed and are restrictive, which is logical. At present we go to the rooms of the COVID-19 patients when their relatives or they themselves call us. We also try to give all the care possible by being permanently in the Chapel. Prayers are never lacking and the Holy Mass celebrated privately by the priest, is offered for the sick, their relatives, the health personnel and the souls of those that die.
The greatest need I see in those affected by the sickness is physical accompaniment and direct spiritual consolation in a more assiduous way. Being isolated, they only have contact with the health personnel, who also encourage them a lot. Thank God, the majority of them can talk by phone with their relatives. Naturally, I enter the rooms but not as much as I would like.
Up to now, the Clinical Hospital of the city of Valencia has not placed any impediment to access the rooms. On the contrary, the relationship is very good, and we are reminded to take the <necessary> precautions. Moreover, the health personnel in general understand our work. Nevertheless, we must do something to improve and grow in the inter-relation of work and understanding between the work of hospital chaplains and the health personnel as a whole.
–Q: How many COVID-19 patients are in your hospital? How many priests are there now?
–Father Segarra: I can’t give you the exact figure. Noticed at this time is a bit more relief. There are fewer patients suffering from COVID-19, and there is a good number that are recovering.
The team includes three priests and two women religious, Handmaids of the Home of the Mother, founded by Father Rafael Alonso. The Sisters aren’t visiting at present. The priests are to administer the Sacraments, given that the visits are restrictive. The nuns are in charge of maintaining the Chapel in perfect conditions so that the people that come to it — normally the health personnel — can have the certainty that its disinfection is taken care of. Once we have learned and implemented the protocol in the Labour Risks Cabinet to memorize where to place ourselves and to remove correctly the EPIS (individual protection teams), we attend the Hospital 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The Sisters also stay in the Chapel, praying for all and distributing Communion to the relatives of the sick and to all the Hospital’s personnel.
–Q: Sadly, many people are dying from the Coronavirus. How do you proceed when a patient who dies in your hospital?
–Father Segarra: When we see that a person is dying, we administer to him the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, together with the Pope’s Plenary Indulgence, granted for this situation, and the Commendation of the soul. When a person dies, be it or not from the Coronavirus, we offer the Holy Mass, whether or not we have been given proof of his death. At the remembrance of the dead in the Holy Mass, whether we attended to them or not, we pray for the salvation of their souls.
–Q: In the framework of the Plenary Indulgence, which the Pope has granted the sick of Coronavirus, and the health assistants and carers, the possibility is admitted to give collective absolutions. Have you done so on some occasion? In the case of Valencia, do you have the Bishop’s pertinent permission?
–Father Segarra: We do indeed. The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addresses <the issue> of group absolutions. Without losing sight of the Council of Trent, which declared solemnly the three acts necessary for a full and perfect remission of sins, namely: contrition, auricular Confession and reparation, from the Instruction of the Apostolic Sacred Penitentiary the Ordinary of the place judges if the conditions exist in the said Instruction to impart them. Given the above and given that on Easter Sunday Pope Francis imparted the Urbi et Orbi Blessing, which granted the Indulgence, together with the Indulgence proper to the COVID-19 patients, up to now in Valencia we have not received further instruction.
–Q: How are you living these days the administration of the Anointing of the Sick? Have e you had a special experience?
–Father Segarra: I live it with much emotional and spiritual intensity. Sometimes one weeps emotionally and spontaneously, without knowing the concrete reason – a bit about everything: the suffering of the sick, the emotion to see the courage and great effort of the health staff, their frustration not to be able to do more – spiritually, also. Every time I administer the Anointing of the Sick, be it to the gravely ill, older persons or the sick in general, I feel Christ’s presence with me in the room. I feel I’m doing something valuable for that person and I feel confirmed in my faith and in my priesthood.
As a special experience I would say, in addition to noting Christ’s presence intensely, I have also seen how, after administering the Anointing of the Sick, many of the sick are cured. We know that the Sacrament isn’t a magic rite, but it’s truly effective in regard to the healing of the body, together with the forgiveness of sins of the entire past life of the person receiving it. So much so, that I would like someone to do it for me, in case I was unable to request it and so that it never depends, not even punctually, on the person responsible for my medical care in the hospital where I was admitted and who might be able to put an impediment when it came to entering my room to administer the Sacrament to me.
–Q: In this situation, have you met with persons that previously didn’t identify themselves with the Christian faith or were non-believers and, on seeing you there, wished to approach God through you?
–Father Segarra: Indeed, it has happened. However, it did not come up at that time the person identified himself or not with the Christian faith or as a non-believer; but death makes one afraid, it scares. This sickness puts us in face of our fragility and contingency. In face of this, many people open themselves to God. And God, through His priests, who administer the Sacraments, is always waiting to embrace His children as in the parable of the Merciful Father. Of course, if they see me, they ask me; hence, the absolute necessity of a priest’s permanent presence in the chaplaincy.
–Q: At the end of March, several of the media published the story of Salvador the father and Salvador the son, of which you were a co-operator. On taking part in the burial of Salvador the father, you recorded the ceremony and then offered to have Salvador the son see it. How did you get the idea?
–Father Segarra: It was a motion of the Holy Spirit. It’s a light that comes to one’s soul suddenly and one gets the idea. It’s not a merit of mine but of God. God’s love is creative and clever.
The death of a father, without a goodbye, without a last kiss or embrace, is terribly hard. Therefore, and under that motion of the Spirit, I understood that the prayer for the dead made for Salvador’s father would be a way to say goodbye to a beloved person. In face of the death of a dear one, the farewell is very important to be able to close the stage of mourning. Salvador was very grateful and felt comforted. I also said to him that, at a convenient time, we would celebrate the funeral with the whole family.
–Q: In these situations, the feeling of sadness that relatives feel is greater when they are unable to say goodbye to their deceased relatives. How do you console these persons? Do you suggest a concrete prayer to them?
–Father Segarra: To console someone, whose relative disappears suddenly from his life, isn’t easy. Nevertheless, the testimony of the messenger is very important, namely, of the priest or believer who is consoling the relative. We are man and women of faith and, this background of hope that we harbor in our soul is noticeable.
The prayer par excellence that I suggest to them is the Holy Mass, which is the greatest thing a priest can offer. In addition to taking God’s consolation with our testimony, we do so also with the Church’s Sacraments, which are effective in the soul and in the body. We are not some kind of “spiritual psychologists,” but, in addition, we administer the Sacraments, which have a real effect on the soul to console it, as no other word that a human being could utter to encourage someone.