I purposely opted to name this experience as witness and not as a simple experience because what I am going to say has clearly been the work of God’s power! And certainly not mine, a sinner!
I still remember the chapter meeting we had, as Capuchin friars, at Mater Dei Hospital. It was Thursday 12 March 2020, at 5.30 pm. In this important chapter it was decided that four friars, including myself, could not work anymore at Mater Dei due to the outbreak of coronavirus. The reason being that I am a vulnerable person healthwise, having suffered a massive heart attack because of the myloprolific disorder condition in my bone marrow. Adding to this I suffer from asthma too. I still remember the words of the friar in charge: I know Mario that this news would break your heart. But, for health issues, better stay away from the General Hospital for the moment.
This news was really a thunderbolt for me. I could hardly know what was being said. I strongly feel that God has given me this life-long mission, that of serving Him in the sick, as He tells us in the Gospel: I was sick and you visited me (Mt 25:43). Having said that, I was emotionally shattered by this awful news. So, I started to pray. The Father Provincial started by telling us how difficult it was to find other friars available to help at the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Immediately, I gave this suggestion to my provincial: “I can go and help at the Chaplaincy of Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre if you want”. When the provincial heard this he told me: “Okay. If you want you are more than welcomed”.
That was what I wanted to hear! I was overjoyed that I could continue my ministry at this place. In fact, instantly, I knew that my experience at the Oncology Centre would be a great one. First of all, as a Capuchin friar, I am called to be a hospital chaplain. Hospital chaplaincy has always been part and parcel of the Capuchin tradition. Secondly, I am also an oncology patient, having haematological problems due to the myloprolific disorder. Thirdly, I obtained an MA in Hospital Chaplaincy Degree from Sydney College of Divinity, specializing in oncology. Fourthly, my sister Josephine died of cancer at the age of almost 49 some thirteen years ago. Fifthly, the Capuchin Saint, St. Leopold Mandic, is the patron saint of patients who are suffering from tumors.
With all this baggage I could go forward joyfully, serving the Lord with His smile! After finishing my night twelve-hour shift at Mater Dei, on Sunday 15 March, I started to transfer some things to the oncology centre. I took my computer, my personal belongings as well as the Divine Mercy material which the sisters from Poland, the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Krakow, send me from time to time to the friary I am actually residing in.
It was exactly on Thursday 26 March 2020 when I sailed off for another wonderful experience in hospital chaplaincy. I entered my room, here at the Chaplaincy residence, at 7.30 am. The 80-year-old friar gave me a handover and off we went! I really appreciated a phone call from my Provincial who not only encouraged me for the service but also suggested some self-care tips, one of them to go out for a walk. That really helped me because that was the walk I am going to talk about now.
This oncology centre is made up of principally five wards: Ward 1, Ward 2, Haematology, Palliative Care Unit and Pediatrics and Adolescents. Compared to Mater Dei Hospital at Sir Anthony Mamo the chaplain does not get many calls that require him to literally run from one end of the Centre to the other. On the contrary, the chaplains receive fewer calls but very meaningful ones. I am literally struck by a wall clock at the Haematology Unit. This clock does not work. Interestingly enough it is pointed at 3’o clock, the time of the Divine Mercy Chaplet! It makes perfect sense because this ward caters to the blood. And what do we pray at 3’o clock if not the prayer in which we offer the BLOOD of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Father as the sacrifice of mercy of the whole world?
It is precisely this point which is the kick off of this journey of faith, hope and charity! At Sir Anthony Mamo, during the Covid-19, and amid all the restrictions, I am having the grace of administering the Anointing of the Sick when one or two members of the family are near the person. From my experience it has been a great comfort to be next to our patients and their restrictive number of family members at this crucial point in their lives. During my accompaniment of these patients there were some of them who opted for the sacrament of confession. I could see tears rolling from their eyes as their confession was ready. What a relief they experienced! Some of them just sighed out of relief that the burden in their hearts was finally taken by the Merciful Christ! What a happy death they made!
Some of them really suffered due to their illness. A particular patient that clearly comes into my mind, told me clearly: Father, pray that I die. I am suffering alot! It is as if the Good Merciful Lord heard her prayers because, just two days after she told me these agonizing words, she passed away calmly and in peace.
A very peculiar factor I notice whenever I Administer the Sacrament of the Sick is that always feel compelled to go for the Rosary beads, take them out from my chestnut habit’s pocket, and invite the family to start praying with me the Divine Mercy Chaplet right away. I am really amazed of the great power of this prayer, particularly when a person is dying. How many times I notice that whenever this prayer is prayed great peace fills the dying person and also his and her family. Besides that, the room in question will be filled by Jesus’ peace. I am quite impressed by the popularity of this Chaplet, thanks be to the Merciful Jesus! This encourages me more to distribute it among the patients, their relatives and staff members! How consoled I am when nurses join me to pray this special Chaplet near the bed of the dying person. Obviously that would be a great opportunity for the nurses themselves to start praying it for the patients they care for! Just before praying the Chaplet we offer it for the person, for the family and relatives, the hospital staff and all the dying people around the world at that moment in time.
All this reminds me of the veracity of Jesus’ promise regarding the Chaplet of Mercy: Write this for the benefit of distressed souls: when a soul sees and realizes the gravity of its sins, when the whole abyss of the misery into which it immersed itself is displayed before its eyes, let it not despair, but with trust let it throw itself into the arms of My mercy, as a child into the arms of its beloved mother. These souls have a right of priority to My compassionate Heart, they have first access to My mercy. Tell them that no soul that has called upon My mercy has been disappointed or brought to shame. I delight particularly in a soul which has placed its trust in My goodness. Write that when they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the merciful Savior (Diary, 1541).
It is exactly this great promise of Jesus, who is God’s Mercy itself incarnated for us and our salvation, that keeps leading me to pray with fervor this greatest weapon at the hour of death. How many patients have slept in the Lord peacefully because of the immense power of this simple yet efficacious prayer!
If, by chance, there are some hospital chaplains who are listening to my witness, please use and pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet when you administer the Anointing of the Sick to them and invite their families to pray it with you! All of us are in dire need of God’s Mercy. Furthermore, and on a practical level, please fill your pockets with Divine Mercy Chaplet prayer cards to distribute to the people you care for, be it patients, their families and staff members! There is so much need for God’s Mercy in today’s world!
Another thing I like to do after I administer the Anointing of the Sick is that of giving the Absolution with Plenary Indulgence. The powerful words of this extraordinary absolution show me God’s infinite mercy and with what authority He has entrusted His Church with. Whenever I utter it, especially in the presence of the two family members (the number allowed during Covid-19 pandemic by hospital authorities), I feel that that privileged soul has been sealed with the seal of eternal salvation. What a blessing for me to assist in such an awesome event!
Furthermore, I like to give to the families and relatives of the person a scroll that has a Bible verse on it in order to be comforted by God’s Word and also to bless their loved one with that Bible line. How many people told me: Father, how did you know what I was going through? That was the bible verse I really needed at the moment!
Finally, I like to bless the person and the family and relatives of the patients with the holy water. Jesus gave me this inspiration through the Diary St. Faustina. In her Diary, Faustina writes in entry 601: Once, when one of our sisters  became fatally ill and all the community  was gathered together, there was also a priest  there who gave the sister absolution. Suddenly, I saw many spirits of darkness. Then, forgetting that I was with the sisters, I seized the holy water sprinkler and sprinkled the spirits, and they disappeared at once. However, when the sisters came to the refectory, Mother Superior [Borgia] remarked that I should not have sprinkled the sick sister in the presence of the priest, as this was his duty. I accepted the admonition in the spirit of penance, but holy water is indeed of great help to the dying.
After all these graces I had instances where the family of the person came for confession themselves. How greatly merciful is Our Lord to draw to Himself so many souls! And how the sacrament of confession, which is the Lord’s tribunal of Mercy, is a source of healing peace for so many who are severely damaged by the pricks of sin!
Today, I say that the secret behind this spiritual wonder which the Lord is working, at the Oncology Centre, is surely the Rosary we pray daily at the Pediatrics and Adolescents ward. As a matter of fact, at five 5.00 pm, I pray the Rosary with the hospital staff, the parents and their children. This initiative has been boldly taken by two nurses, Angele and Renie, who, together, founded the Puttinu foundation. Website: https://puttinucares.org/
Both Angele and Renie claim that the Rosary was their motivating force to do all this for the children and adolescents who are suffering from cancer as well as for their families.
My witness concerning the Anointing of the Sick during Covid-19 shows me that God’s grace keeps working in every situation! And, most of all, how truthful it is the saying: AD JESUM PER MARIAM! That is, to Jesus through Mary!