In Ukraine, serving at bedside, a priest brings God’s love to COVID-19 patients
GRZEGORZ DRAUS is not an astronaut, although he may look like one, nor is he a pilot of a spaceship. He is wearing protective equipment which features no fewer than 13 different items. His aim: to care for COVID-19 patients in a special hospital in Lviv, Ukraine.
Facemask, protective goggles, overalls, gloves, and boiler suit …, all the doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff have to wear them. But Grzegorzhe wears an additional item that distinguishes him from the rest—his priestly stole.
Father Grzegorz Draus is a Polish Catholic priest who for the past nine years has been exercising his ministry in Lviv, an important cultural and scientific center. The Lviv region counts more than 3000 cases of COVID-19 infections, with 700 hospitalized cases; so far, there have been 100 fatalities. Ever since the outbreak of the pandemic, Father Draus has been visiting coronavirus patients in the hospital twice a week. He tells Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “Unfortunately, owing to my other pastoral work, it is impossible for me to visit more often.”
“I spend eight hours inside this ‘uniform. When I go from one hospital to another, I have to change part of the equipment and disinfect myself,” he explains, adding: “For me the most difficult part is having to work in spite of the humidity and perspiration, because everything mists up and it is almost impossible to see anything. I can’t imagine how the nurses manage to work in such conditions; it is far from easy. But they have to do their work nevertheless, for example giving injections.”
He continues: “I visit every room, I bless the patients and try to bring good news. I speak of God’s love. I tell them that Jesus Christ is very close to them in their suffering, for he suffered some of the same symptoms as those fighting the disease; he too struggled to breathe.”
In addition to their physical sufferings, the priest says, “the most difficult thing for the patients in the hospital is dealing with the consequences of the disease and the problems it brings to others—hospitalization and isolation. Some of them even feel guilty and blame themselves.”
In order to spiritually strengthen them, Father Draus hears confessions and distributes Communion. Because of sanitary regulations, he cannot consume any of the remaining consecrated hosts, or keep them in any way. “But every day I experience a little miracle, for the number of people receiving Holy Communion is always equal to the number of hosts I brought with me,” he says.
Father Draus could never have imagined that his ministry would have brought him to this situation, but healways quite clear that following God’s call to the priesthood would be an adventure. “God does not need your sacrifice, but your love,” he quotes a friend, answering him when, as an adolescent, Father Draus had told him “that he wanted to sacrifice himself to serve the poor.”
In the almost 25 years he has spent since then, loving the poor and the needy, this priest has never “for a single day” regretted his ordination. The only thing he desires is to follow the example of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, “who slept for only four or five hours a day, because she was full of zeal for her work and loved what she did. I too want to love what I do in the same way, right to the end.”
To support the work of Ukrainian priests and religious during the pandemic, ACN has provided the necessary protective equipment—including face masks, gloves, antiseptic, etc.—to 3478 priests, 92 seminarians and about one thousand members of religious communities, for their own protection and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.