“What a blessing, Father, to have you come! Because it is not you, but the Lord who has come. There are so many sick people like me who cannot receive the Lord, and I can! What a joy! Now I can die in peace.” Mrs. María del Refugio articulated in just a few words, her face shining through sobs and tears, the beautiful and simple truth about the sacraments. “What happiness, what joy!” she repeated various times; and then that final “Now I can die in peace” that reminds me of the prophet Simeon in front of the baby Jesus.
Recently, I returned to visiting the sick. These are above all elderly people, such as Mrs. Maria, who have not left their homes for about a year, have not received communion, and have not confessed. Many of them pass away because of sadness, because of the absence of human relationships and love. Martino, the seminarian who is here with me, helps me in this service. We call them to see if they want a visit. Almost always, they respond: “Would it be prudent? With this situation?” We reassure them, and confirm that we will be cautious. And, in many of them, the desire to receive Our Lord wins over their fear.
When I arrive at their house, the celebration begins: the confession normally transforms into a monologue which is like a river full of memories, anecdotes, joys and regrets. I listen with patience — it has been months since they have seen anyone! — and I am always in wonder as I rediscover how each person is a world in themselves. Then the Anointing and the Communion. Within that river of memories, behold there arrives a Presence that is good, one that touches the heart and cures it. On their tired faces, I see the smile of a child appear.
The pandemic definitely revealed the limits of the parishes. There are few priests going to give the Anointing of the Sick; some have not even reopened the church, even though there are no official prohibitions. For this reason, sometimes I have to travel far to hospitals and houses to allow people to reconcile before their final encounter.
It happened that Felipe de Jesús, terminally ill, had been hospitalized in the northern part of Mexico City, about an hour from our house. The family called five parish priests in the nearby churches and only one responded. He said he could come, but they would have to wait a week… Seven days are too many for someone who is dying. Felipe’s son is in the Movement, and lives in San Francisco.
He had the idea of writing to the secretary of CL in Mexico to ask if they knew a priest who could visit his father. Thus, the request came to me. And, on a Sunday afternoon, Martino and I got into the car and were off.
We arrived at the big public hospital, went to the ER, asked about bed 38, and… – surprise! – “No one is allowed to enter,” they said. I pleaded with the employee and showed him that I was wearing a collar. Nothing. As a last resort, he sent me to a “social services” office to ask for a pass. The lady at the desk told me, “It is not possible: there are many patients with Covid! It is for your own good.”
Almost giving up, I returned to the ER and began to pray in front of the glass that separated us, to send a blessing from afar to Mr. Felipe. No sooner had I begun than the door opened and a female doctor asked me gently to pass through: “Go ahead father! And while you are here visit all of the sick! A blessing is so badly needed here… ”.
Mr. Felipe de Jesús died shortly after, in the grace of the Lord, on the eve of the solemnity of his saint, who was the first Mexican martyr from the 16th century. In the communion of the Church and of the saints, four centuries are like a single day.
Davide Tonini is parish priest of Maria Inmaculada, in Mexico City. In the photo, during a moment of celebration with the parishioners.