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Dallas Catholic priests continue hospital ministry, offer sacraments in patients' final days

There is a group of eight Catholic priests who have seen hundreds of COVID-19 patients in DFW hospitals at the request of families.

DALLAS — Being in a hospital can be an isolating feeling for COVID-19 patients. Hospitals have rightfully implemented strict access rules that limit family visits to hospitals as a way to contain the spread. Only doctors, nurses, and staff are mostly allowed on hospital floors inhabited by COVID-19 patients.

But there is another group providing spiritual healing during this pandemic.

"[We do this] to bring peace, bring them this good news that the Lord has not abandoned you, the church has not abandoned you," said the Rev. Tymoteusz Ksiazkiewicz.

Ksiazkiewicz and John Szatkowski are two of eight priests from the Dallas Catholic Diocese on a special assignment: to go into hospitals at the request of patient families.

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The priests said that Bishop Edward J. Burns reached out to them to ask for volunteers to continue the hospital visitations despite the pandemic.

"There needed to be younger priests who had no preexisting health conditions and had to be a younger priest who wasn't living with an older priest," Szatkowski said.

Ksiazkiewicz has been a priest for one year; Szatkowski has been a priest for 10 years. Together they've visited well more than 100 COVID-19 patients in the last several months.

"Most of the patients are not able to communicate with us. They are unconscious and intubated," Szatkowski said.

The priests have to wear personal protective equipment and are supervised during the visit by healthcare workers. They are routinely tested and temperature checked. The priests said they only bring to the hospital what's needed for the sacraments and a small prayer kit with a prayer note and religious photo in a little bag.

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"I try my best to make sure my collar is visible for the person who can't communicate at least visibly see that a priest is here," Szatkowski said.

Because for those fighting to live, seeing a priest means a lot. The priests tell said their mission is about giving the families and the patients hope. Szatkowski and Ksiazkiewicz said priests have taken much riskier, even deadlier assignments well before them.

"I'm giving my life visiting the sick. The baseline is the same: the desire to love and the desire to give life," Ksiazkiewicz said.

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