Medical staff at Valley Regional Medical Center gathered outside the hospital’s entrances on a recent evening for a mobile church service and prayer vigil organized in support of both patients and front line workers who are witnessing the toll of COVID-19 every day inside local emergency rooms.
Those fighting to save lives also place their own lives at risk in treating patients, and the hospital since the start of the crisis has seen groups of various faiths offering prayers and support to staff and patients battling the illness inside.
Wednesday’s event was put together by organizers from San Pedro Catholic Church. The congregation’s Capilla Movil has been used in the past to offer services to those who can’t leave their homes, and given that hospitals are at capacity, it seemed like the perfect moment to bring messages of healing and peace to those who need it.
Father Joel Flores, parochial administrator at San Pedro Catholic Church, worked with Valley Regional’s Chaplain Sister Esther Rodriguez to coordinate the procession with the blessed sacrament of the altar around the hospital.
The vigil parked at four hospital entrances, reading from the gospel of Mark, where in each selected passage Jesus encounters the sick. “We would love to be able to be inside with them,” said Father Flores.
“Sadly, the situation is so dire that we can’t even go in for something like last rites. The Capilla Movil is something that we have at San Pedro Church and I said if that’s something that works for us to get around people’s homes, it could work here. All the passages that we’ll be reading are one where the Lord Jesus went and encountered the sick and the situation they were in, no matter how terrible or dire it was,” he said.
As the chapel began its circle around the hospital, the smell of burning copal incense filled the parking lot. Flores rode on the mobile chapel, stopping in front of each entrance to read each passage. Hospital staff waited in groups outside, some kneeling in prayer.
Flores recited Ave Maria in both English and Spanish. A volunteer strummed a guitar from the parking lot. In the hot afternoon sun, the procession made its way to each entrance. Staff moved in and out of hospital doors, taking quick breaks to witness and participate.
Sister Esther spoke of the importance of faith during a crisis for both patients and providers. “The patients at this time are not only struggling with physical illness, but also the emotional and the spiritual distress. It’s very hard,” she said.
“Important to our faith is that every person represents the divine presence — meaning Jesus. If we remember what Jesus said — whatever you do to others, you do to me. The suffering Christ we see in the patients.”
She thanked her team of hospital staff volunteering to coordinate such events so that she can be with patients. “If I’m in my office, I have to leave the patients for a while. It’s very helpful to have these ladies help out,” she said of her colleagues.