Our being Religious consecrated to hospitality

Interview with brother Jesús Etayo, Superior general of the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God

In the situation we are experiencing because of the COVID, together with Mr. Riccardo Benotti, head of service of SIR (Religious Information Service) which is the information medium of the CEI (Italian Episcopal Conference), we asked some questions to the most exposed  congregations involved in health.

Today, here are the answers of Brother Jesús Etayo:

1. How has changed the order's activity in caring for the sick ?

Even more than is usually the case, the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God (Fatebenefratelli) are at the forefront to support the Italian National Health System in responding to the health needs of the Italian population and to respond to health needs elsewhere in the world. Since the beginning of the emergency situation, all our facilities have actively worked to reorganize the wards and increase the beds available to COVID-19 patients, as well as to protect and safeguard all our other guests from the risk of contagion. All this without preconditions and with a spirit of solidarity and hospitality, thinking first of all of our patients. It is not only the hospitals in the front line (such as our Holy Family of Erba and St. Peter's in Rome, who assisted a good number of Covid-19 patients), but also the residential and rehabilitation facilities (in Lombardy alone we host over 1,000 psychiatric patients).

Having to make a virtue out of necessity, the Order in Italy and throughout the world has reacted to this situation by developing much needed organizational skills and practices:

  • Efforts to provide all our staff, patients and guests with the necessary Personal Protective Equipment in a context of limited availability on the market.
  • In order to better coordinate the initiatives adopted in the different structures, a Provincial Crisis Unit has been established in each Religious Province and sometimes in each Centre, which gathers almost daily during the emergency in virtual mode, i.e. videoconferences.
  • Adaptation of virtual meetings as the normative practice, in order to limit travel and contacts between our personnel.
  • Procedures for responding to epidemic emergencies have been developed and will remain a heritage of knowledge of the Provinces.
  • We have had to learn to be a "mendicant" Order again, developing fundraising skills to support the increased costs that this emergency has brought with it.
  • For years the Order has structured a chaplaincy ("Spiritual and Religious Needs Services") for guests and collaborators in each centre.

In these months of pandemic, this service, composed of lay ministers, priests, deacons, and religious, in line with what the C.E.I. has suggested, has tried to be close to the sick with a constant presence, where possible, through the sacraments and spiritual and psychological support towards the co-workers.

2. How many COVID-19 patients have passed through your facilities?

In Italy, to date, we have hosted 440 COVID-19 positive patients in various capacities.

In Spain, there have been around 1500 COVID-19 positive patients. A significant but uncertain number in other European nations such as Germany, France, Austria, Portugal, Hungary, et al.

On other continents - the Americas, Asia, and Africa - there have been few cases so far, that our order has dealt with.

3. Were any of your members infected from treating the sick?

Among the religious in Italy we had only one case of positivity, in an elderly friar who had to be hospitalized, as well as some religious women who collaborate with us in the service of the sick. Everyone is in recovery.

Globally, so far we have had 45 confirmed cases among confreres. The majority have recovered or are in recovery, but unfortunately five elderly brethren have died, four in Spain and one in France.

Additionally, about 500 collaborators and colleagues have been infected. Two have died, one in Italy and another in Colombia. The rest are recovered or in recovery. 

4. What attention have you shown to the medical and nursing staff?

We have tried in every way to make present to our personnel the closeness of the religious family, supporting each where possible in their daily needs. In this historical moment, some of our employees have been waiting for the renewal of their national employment contracts for many years. Some provinces, particularly in Italy, are preparing a series of proposals aimed at propping up institutional confidence and social trust, as well as the income for their families, initiatives that will be presented to the unions in the coming weeks. We have made available, through our Provincial Pastoral Centre, a service to welcome their requests, their needs, to help them overcome some difficult moments in assistance.

In other parts of the world with more needs, we have provided to members of our family (staff and volunteers) food aid, or any other basic type of aid necessary to support a family. 

5. What it means to be a religious person dedicated to the care of people's health and to be faced with to such a pandemic? 

This pandemic has shaken our religious life very much. We have spent considerable time reflecting on the purpose of our presence today alongside the sick and our staff.

What has emerged even more strongly is our identity as religious consecrated to hospitality. Not all have had the opportunity to serve or be present to the sick, due to age or illness, but in all there has been a strong attention to what is happening in the facilities we manage, providing prayer, presence, and ideas for coping with the pandemic.

Some of us participated personally in the organization of this emergency and other brothers with direct services to people. In particular, I would like to highlight the young community of the novitiate that has continued and continues to provide service to the marginalized, homeless and immigrants in one of our centers in Brescia.

It is clear to all of us that this epidemic has opened our eyes to the world of healthcare, which must see us always attentive to the needs of all times and the new needs that every health crisis brings to light even more. We can say that we have seen at work what our founder St. John of God has transmitted to us and that our constitutions remind us every day: The vow of Hospitality that we profess commits us to stand by the sick even in danger of death.