Covid strikes clergy as they comfort pandemic’s sick and dying

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The Rev. Jose Luis Garayoa survived typhoid fever, malaria, a kidnapping and the Ebola crisis as a missionary in Sierra Leone, only to die of Covid-19 after tending to the people of his Texas church who were sick from the virus and the grieving family members of those who died.

Garayoa, 68, who served at El Paso’s Little Flower Catholic Church, was one of three priests living in the local home of the Roman Catholic Order of the Augustinian Recollects who contracted the disease. Garayoa died two days before Thanksgiving.

Garayoa was aware of the dangers of Covid, but he could not refuse a congregant who sought comfort and prayers when that person or a loved one fought the disease, according to retired hairstylist Maria Luisa Placencia, one of the priest’s parishioners.

“He could not see someone suffering or worried about a child or a parent and not want to pray with them and show compassion,” Placencia said.

Garayoa’s death underscores the personal risks taken by spiritual leaders who comfort the sick and their families, give last rites or conduct funerals for people who have died of Covid. Many also face challenges in leading congregations that are divided over the seriousness of the pandemic.

Ministering to the ill or dying is a major role of spiritual leaders in all religions…

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