A Portuguese priest who used to be a practicing nurse has returned to the realm of health care to treat COVID-19 patients. His name is Fr. Rúben Figueiredo, and he’s volunteering at a field hospital, set up at what is usually a spirituality center in Fatima, Portugal. The facility currently cares for more than 40 inpatients.
The temporary hospital receives patients who need to be in isolation for an average of 10 days. After this period, they undergo a new coronavirus test. If the result is negative, they’re discharged.
Fr. Ruben, who is from the diocese of Santarem, has been working at this facility in Fatima since it opened on December 14, 2020. He told Ecclesia, a Portuguese Catholic news agency, “In the context of this pandemic, during which there’s an immense need for nurses and health care professionals, I couldn’t resist, and I’m on the front line.”
On one hand, he emphasizes his trust in the country’s National Health Service, whose response he lauds. At the same time, he comes to this topic very much as a priest, and sees the situation with the eyes of faith:
I especially emphasize trust and hope. We live in times of fear, in which the grammar and lexicon is death, suffering, and contagion… As Christians, we know that Christ is with us, Christ walks with us and makes himself present in these hours. As Christians, we have to have a look of faith and hope, which is what I try to have.
Fr. Figueiredo studied nursing and was a practicing nurse before entering the seminary in 2011. He was ordained in 2017 and assigned to parish work.
When the pandemic arrived, he hadn’t practiced the nursing profession in nearly a decade. But the number of healthcare professionals in the area are few in the face of the current need.
In addition to helping them medically, Fr. Figueiredo sees it as an opportunity to witness to them that the Church “is not standing by with its arms crossed, closed to this suffering; it’s good that they see that priests are available and are committed to helping.”
Given his decade away from medical work, he has had to go back to the textbooks to review and learn what he needs for the pandemic. The shutting down of most parish activities has made it possible for him to exercise his pastoral ministry in this new way, with the approval and support of his bishop, fellow clergy, and parishioners. At the same time, he continues to stay in touch with his communities by telephone and on social networks.
He considers it a privilege to be in Fatima, and of course is maintaining an active spiritual life, “according to the work schedule.”
As a priest, Father Reuben is pastor of no less than four parishes: Chouto, Parreira, Ulme and Vale de Cavalos. In these communities, he had already been reinforcing the importance of health care and COVID-19 safety precautions as a way to love one’s neighbor.
Beside his work at the COVID-19 facility, Fr. Figueiredo volunteered to help care for an elderly priest, Fr. Fernando Campos da Silva, who was ill with COVID-19. Fr. Campos died on the last Sunday of January at the age of 91 due to COVID-19, in his room at the priest’s residence where they were both housed.
Fr. Reuben comments:
It was a privilege to have been there during the last moments of his life. I had the weekend off and offered to go and take care of Fr. Campos. On Saturday, with the doctor, we did an evaluation; he was always lucid, always very cooperative … Then, around 1 a.m., while I was playing Mozart’s Solemn Mass, while I was playing the Kyrie, he died very peacefully.
Fr. Figueiredo concludes that the late Fr. Fernando Campos was and is “a very important reference point” in his vocational story.
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