Archdiocesan priests volunteer to anoint COVID-19 patients

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, April 8, 2020

In an effort to accompany COVID-19 patients during the pandemic, a group of archdiocesan priests has volunteered to offer them the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

It is a way for the church to be church, said Auxiliary Bishop Ronald Hicks, vicar general of the archdiocese.

“How do we make sure we continue to do what the church does? You provide the sacraments to people especially at their most vulnerable moments in life,” he said.

The archdiocese sought volunteers from each of the six vicariates and has ensured different language groups have priests available to anoint COVID-19 patients. The priests are all under 60 and have no underlying health conditions.

“We want them to be in a rotation so that the exposure to the virus is perhaps a little bit less,” Bishop Hicks said. “We don’t want to have the same priest have to consistently go and do the anointings.”

The priests went through a virtual training about how to administer the sacraments in this context and how to be as safe as possible.

For example, in normal cases, the priest dips his thumb into the oil of the sick and makes the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead and palms. In these cases, canon law permits the priest anoint the person with oil on a cotton ball or a cotton-tipped swab. Those are to be burned later owing to the sacredness of the oil.

Part of the sacrament involves laying on of hands, but in these cases the priests will not make physical contact. They also must sanitize the items used in the sacrament before they enter the hospital or home and after they leave.

The priests were also instructed on how to put on personal protective equipment and how to return home in ways that reduce the likelihood they are carrying the virus back with them and infecting other people.

The effort was organized to make sure the church is available at a time when people are most in need, Bishop Hicks said.

“If someone has COVID-19 and it looks like they are going to pass away from it, we want to make sure we have a small army of our priests available to those people before they pass on, that they are accompanied in their last moments of life and that they receive the sacraments,” he said.

This is an extension of Christ’s ministry on earth, as are all sacraments, said Father Tom Boharic, one of the priests who volunteered to anoint COVID-19 patients and pastor of St. Simon the Apostle Parish, 5157 S. California Ave.

“From the example of the saints and church history, we see the importance of so many people who have been sick, who have been contagious, and the power of the sacraments,” Boharic said. “Christ’s incarnation continues on through the sacraments.”

He said he worries about contracting the virus and spreading it to other people during this time, but he believes in the church’s responsibility to the sick.

“Of course I’m trying to take all of the precautions that I can so that I don’t get sick,” Boharic said. “I’m actually more worried about getting sick and spreading the contagion to someone else.”

During this pandemic, many people are doing the work of the Lord, he said.

“We as priests, yes, we’re doing something but I really also want to emphasize that Christ’s ministry of healing is happening in a very profound way through all healthcare workers and first responders,” he said. “I’m grateful to them and praying for them.”


  • priests
  • coronavirus

Related Articles