The wounded healer

Since the beginning of the pandemic, hospital chaplains have operated alongside health workers on the front line against the coronavirus. Silent figures, often forgotten, with the delicate task of providing spiritual assistance and moral support to patients, families, but also to doctors and nurses. However, priests are not immune to emotional and physical stress. In order to defuse their traumatic charge, a national service of psychological accompaniment for hospital chaplains has been activated.

In April 2020 I started photographing chaplains on duty at the major hospitals in Piedmont overwhelmed by the coronavirus emergency. Since March 2020, Piedmont has been one of the most affected regions in Italy by the Covid-19 emergency.

As well as doctors and other health workers, chaplains, when called to visit the wards, are unrecognizable behind overalls, masks and visors. They are sometimes forced to bring their closeness by praying or greeting through a glass.

Much of their work, however, is done outside the wards: the word of comfort or the joke exchanged with a nurse in front of a coffee machine; telephone calls from families looking for news of their hospitalized relatives; solitary prayer at Masses celebrated behind closed doors.

The topic of spiritual assistance is part of a wider debate on patient care and its role in a healing process that is not only physical. The patient's right to receive spiritual assistance, despite the confession, is in fact guaranteed by Italian law and falls within the right to freedom of worship enshrined in Article 8 of the Constitution.

The witness of the chaplains provides a new point of view on the pandemic. They have always chosen to share in the suffering of others: believers, but also lay people. Despite physical barriers and fear of contagion, they have never ceased to be there.