By Vatican News staff writer
Bishop Michael Router, the Chair of the Healthcare Council of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, is encouraging people to reach out to the elderly as Ireland enters into a second national lockdown due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Ireland, on Monday, announced tough new restrictions to deal with its rising Covid-19 infection rate. On Wednesday night, the country shut down non-essential retail and told its citizens not to travel more than three miles from their homes.
The vulnerable elderly
In a statement released on Thursday, Bishop Router, who is also the Auxiliary of Armagh, pointed out there are small things that we can do to rise above our own concerns and positively contribute to the lives of those in need, especially the elderly.
He said that elderly people as a group that can be sometimes neglected “have borne the brunt of this pandemic’s wide-ranging effects.” Many, he continued, “have been cocooning for several months and these further restrictions are distressing for them.”
How to reach out
Suggesting ways of being close to the elderly, Bishop Router said that people could “phone an elderly neighbor on a regular basis for a short chat or to inquire if they needed something from the shops or the chemist.”
Another way could be to encourage those living alone to keep in touch with their faith and how they can participate in the celebration of the Eucharist via TV or radio. Alternatively, people can give some advice on exercise for those who able to walk unaided, or give the elderly information on who to reach out to if they feel anxious or alone.
He also encouraged parishes to inform elderly parishioners about a free phone confidential listening service called “Senior Line.” He explained that this service for older people is open between 10:00 am to 10:00 pm every day.
Protecting the elderly
Bishop Router stressed the need for protecting the elderly, saying that it was “hugely distressing” that in the early phase of the ongoing health crisis, “many vulnerable people died as a result of the spread of Covid-19 in nursing care homes.”
He added that as the country faces the current rise in coronavirus cases, people need to remember that every nursing home resident is a member of someone’s family who has played their part “in contributing to their communities and to the economy.”
The Bishop called on the government to prioritize nursing homes and ensure that they have the personnel and equipment to deal with the current coronavirus crisis, adding that “the lives of those who live in such facilities should be valued, respected and enhanced.”
“Human life is sacred and precious from the child in the womb to the elderly person in care,” he said. “We must do all that we can to protect life and to improve the quality of life for those who are particularly vulnerable.”
Spiritual care for patients
Separately, the chairman of the US Bishops’ Conference Committee on Religious Liberty, Archbishop Thomas Wenski hailed a Tuesday announcement by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (HHS OCR) permitting hospital patients to have access to spiritual care during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Archbishop Wenski said in a statement on Wednesday that Covid-19 requires us to modify our physical interactions to some degree in order to avoid risks to our physical health. However, medical experts should avoid “treating physical interactions in religious exercise as unnecessary or unacceptable risks because they are religious.”
He explained that Jesus gave us the sacraments to “convey God’s grace and healing.” Therefore, without them, we are “distanced from God, the source of our being and meaning.” In this light, it is of importance that the “government, public health authorities and health care providers strive to respect the liberty of the faithful to receive the sacraments.”
“A true understanding of human wellbeing accounts, as Jesus did, for the health of both body and soul,” Archbishop Wenski said.