Vatican News
Nun nurses at an emergency room in Le Molinette Hospital in northern Italy Nun nurses at an emergency room in Le Molinette Hospital in northern Italy  (AFP or licensors)

Coronavirus: the women religious on the frontlines

An army of women religious is responding to the global new coronavirus emergency as they serve the sick, often at the risk of their own lives.

By Federico Piana & Linda Bordoni

Invisible to most and always discreet, an army of women religious is deployed in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether they are qualified nurses or cloistered nuns, whether their charism has them assisting the poor or helping the families of those affected by the disease, they are armed with two powerful weapons: prayer and love. 

Hundreds of women’s congregations throughout the world are responding to the crisis, their members signing on for endless hospital shifts, tending to stricken patients, keeping an open-line with those most in need, making sure basic services such as sharing prayers and updating information, continue to be provided.

In Italy, a Covid-19 hotspot, the Daughters of St. Camillus, whose charism is to dedicate themselves to nursing the sick and the elderly, have been in the trenches since the start of the pandemic.

The Camillians run five important Italian Hospitals; they are to be found in Rome, Trento, Treviso, Brescia and Cremona, the latter three at the heart of the crisis in the north of the country. 

Ready to give their lives for others

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Sr. Lancy Ezhupara, Director of the San Camillo Hospital in Treviso and Secretary-General of her Order said: "In all our structures nurse nuns are selflessly risking their lives".

But the sisters, she said, are not afraid… on the contrary! "We Daughters of St. Camillus make a fourth vow, in addition to the three classic vows of poverty, obedience and chastity: that of serving the sick even at the cost of our lives.”

This vow, she continued, has become even more meaningful today as the Sisters go about their work in isolated hospital wards coping with the covid-19 infection 

Sr. Lancy explained that in the Treviso hospital there are over a hundred beds for infected patients, “but the difficulties are countless because there is a shortage of equipment.”

As religious, whose mission is to continue the ministry of Jesus as healers, she said, the Daughters of St. Camillus find comfort in their common fearlessness and readiness to do anything to be close to those who suffer. 

“Their total availability and commitment is moving. They are aware that they too can die, but prayer and the intercession of St. Camillus gives us strength,” she said.

Prayer: a powerful weapon

As well as the nurse nuns caring for the sick in hospital wards, thousands of other women religious throughout the Italian peninsula are using prayer in the fight against the virus.

Some pray the rosary using megaphones placed on the balconies of their convents; some are mastering social media to be able to share novenas and prayers online; others, in the solitude of their cloisters, are more dedicated than ever to sacrifice and prayer.

In Bergamo, one of the cities most affected by the pandemic, there is the Benedictine monastery of Santa Grata. Speaking to Vatican Radio, the Superior, Sr. Maria Teresa, explained that even in the cloister "we have internet and TV and therefore we know the current pain of the world". 

It is precisely in this unfortunate time, she said, that cloistered women have intensified their prayer: "Indeed, we are engaged in a real marathon of prayers.”

Sr. Maria Teresa said her sisters are receiving requests for prayers from all over the world “and we have gladly armed ourselves with rosaries, novenas” and an ancient prayer that is a tradition of the monastery, “a prayer which our ancestors used in times of calamity." 

As well as prayer, she continued, there is the closeness, the sharing of pain. "All the nuns,” Sr. Maria Teresa revealed, “are in telephone contact with the health care staff of the city hospital, many of whom are on the brink of collapse, and they tell us about the tragedy experienced in the first person.” 

“We do our part not forgetting that the body also has a soul that must be defended and saved," she concluded, in the certainty that this is one of the ways the battle against the coronavirus can be won.

23 March 2020, 14:52