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Priest called to administer last rites stunned at what he witnesses from staff in Craigavon Hospital

A Co. Armagh priest has praised the “humanity” of frontline workers at Craigavon Area Hospital who have offered comfort to those passing throughout the pandemic.

Speaking to Armagh I, Fr Brian Fitzpatrick of Moyraverty Parish, said: “I just want people to know that nobody is on their own in the hospital, there is always someone to hold their hand and offer them a word of comfort.

“Nobody is left out in this thing, it seems that the numbers are getting bigger every night and the statistics take over but believe me the care for every single person is personal and it is there.”

On Wednesday, after – in his own words – being “bowled over” by what he saw, Fr. Fitzpatrick took to social media to describe the scene as he attended Craigavon Area Hospital to anoint a patient near the end of life with Covid-19.

“On the ward, I was shown to the bed where the curtains were pulled round,” he posted.

“Behind the curtains were four people with the patient, all in full PPE (gowns, masks, visors, hairnets, gloves) whom I presumed were family members as one was in tears, others holding the patient’s hand or head, and someone praying aloud but softly.”

However, as the priest began to read the names of those present on their visors, it became apparent that they were not family of the patient but young nurses and doctors.

Fr. Fitzpatrick wrote: “They were the ones comforting him, weeping for him, praying with him. These are our frontline staff; they are giving everything in service for us and our family members and I will never forget that touching sight and beautiful experience as long as I live. God bless them, uphold them, protect them and reward them.”

Explaining to Armagh I the  reason for posting, the priest said: “It is a privilege for us to be allowed in the ward at all. You basically go in, see the patient and leave.

“There is no time to socially interact with the staff; the doctors, the nurses, the care assistants but now and then you do get little flashes of inspiration and you see the special moments of care.”

Fr. Fitzpatrick explained how he was “bowled over” by what he had witnessed, so much so he took to the local parish’s social media account to try his best to explain what he felt and saw. His post has since been shared 3,300 times.

“I did not think that it would be shared a widely as it has been but I am glad that it has and hopefully it will hit home for a lot of people, it certainly did for me.”

Praising the staff, Fr, Fitzpatrick said: “We all approach our jobs and roles with professionalism but sometimes it is just your humanity which is called for and we can’t help ourselves.

“Sometimes our heart and our sympathies can play as much a role as our head and our skills and the work of your hands.”

He added: “Every person you are called to is someone who would love to have their family there, and in some cases, families or usually just one member of that family can be at a bed side, but not everybody gets that privilege.

“They are going beyond themselves everyday in this pandemic; now that they are wearied and exhausted they are not letting up, it is more impressive now perhaps than it was in the first peak.”

The priest commented that the focus of his ministry had also changed due to the pandemic, due to restrictions over church service and funerals.

He said: “I suppose, the time has gone more now to the people in hospital, when you are called to go their side and then sadly the follow up with the family who are grieving for someone who has died, whether through Covid or anything else.

“It is part of our ministry which probably wasn’t as prominent in the past but that is what you expect and that is what you are there for. In one sense it is good they we do have that time now, with the loss of normal day to day work.”

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