When the Rev. Felix Twumasi, 44, the associate pastor at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Schulenburg, received a call from Bishop Brendan Cahill about ministering to COVID-19 patients in Victoria, he had mixed emotions.
“First, it was a joy to be called by the bishop to be assigned to minister to these people because Jesus himself has special compassion for the sick,” Twumasi said.
But, ministering to the COVID-19 patients also was a bit scary for Twumasi because “you just mention the name COVID and people get scared.”
Twumasi said that, as a priest, it is his duty to continue the healing ministry of Jesus. At the same time, he wondered what would happen because he would be exposed to COVID patients.
“You can be infected and anything can happen, so that was the fear,” he said. “But my understanding of the priesthood is commitment and sacrifice. And there should be somebody present to minister to these people, somebody should be there. So if I am called, I should go with a sense of joy to share in that ministry.”
Twumasi visited patients in DeTar Hospital, Citizens Medical Center and Twin Pines Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
Before entering each patient’s room, he donned a head cover, mask, face shield, shoe covers, gloves and a gown. For those who were actively dying, he administered last rites. For those who were not actively dying, he administered anointing of the sick. He carried a plastic Ziploc bag that contained cotton with oil, and he carried communion in his pocket for those well enough to receive it.
Twumasi was assigned to non-COVID-19 patients as well during his mission. He blessed 56 COVID-19 patients and 45 non-COVID-19 patients in the hospitals and the nursing home. He stayed alone in a cottage on the grounds of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament Convent in Victoria for the duration of the more than two-month assignment.
“Most of them were actively dying on ventilators and could not talk at all,” Twumasi said. “Those who were not dying would engage you in talking, and after that I would perform the blessing, anoint them with oil and leave.”
One gentleman declared he did not need Twumasi when he entered the room because he had no intention of dying and he associated the priest with last rites.
“No, I’m here to pray with you, so that God will bring healing of body and soul to you,” Twumasi told him.
The gentleman prayed with Twumasi and he later recovered.
“Those who could talk were so excited, so happy. They said, ‘Father you are here to give us communion and to anoint us,’” Twumasi said. “One talked for 20 minutes, and you could see the joy flowing through them, and for me, that was a sense of fulfillment. I was so happy that I could be physically present with them.”
Twumasi continued that he felt blessed to be there at that important moment in their lives to offer them hope.
”It was so meaningful to be there and to attend to them,” he said. “As a priest, I am called to be a source of hope, a source of comfort and a source of joy to people. So your mere presence at that very moment of their lives meant so much to them. “
The nervousness Twumasi felt when he started subsided a few days into his mission, and he began entering the rooms with confidence.
He did not get COVID-19 during his time ministering to the sick.
One of the main challenges was that the families were not allowed in their patients’ rooms because of the virus. Normally, when a priest administers last rites, the family members surround their loved one.
“I could see the anxiety and loneliness of the patients and the frustration of the families,” he said. “This was a big challenge because you could see they were so frustrated that they could not get the chance to say goodbye.”
Two times, family members were allowed in the room, and four times, the nurse called the families and shared the experiences via video. Twice, families were outside the window crying and trying to bid their loved one farewell. The rest of the time, the patients were alone.
Another challenge was that some families did not want Twumasi blessings their loved ones who did not have COVID-19 because he had been exposed to the virus. So they would call another priest.
Twumasi said seeing people dying every day was difficult. He would go home and process the pain by calling friends. Cahill, the Rev. Gary Janak, the Rev. Gabriel Bentil, the sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament and Twumasi’s parishioners from St. Rose of Lima were “very supportive.”
”They guide and help you deal with all of this,” he said. “And my parishioners called to see how I was doing.”
Twumasi said Cahill is passionate about the apostolic way of Jesus Christ in caring for the sick, which is why he assigned Twumasi to attend to the COVID-19 patients.
”That is why I think he appointed a priest to be with them, because of his love and passion for the sick,” he said. “He’s a pastor of souls, and he’s doing it so well.”
Twumasi quoted Pope Benedict XVI in regard to the importance of ministry to the sick in the Catholic church. In Pope Benedict’s book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” he states that “healing is an essential dimension of the apostolic mission and of Christian faith in general. It can even be said that Christianity is a therapeutic religion, a religion of healing.”
“At the end of everything, I felt so blessed to offer care that was so intimate to these COVID patients because I could enter their room and just be with them and minister to them,” Twumasi said. “It was so reassuring for them to see a priest physically present at that moment of their life.”