Healthcare workers at one area hospital received a special blessing on Thursday, thanks to a priest who serves as a Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) chaplain.

Oblate Father Steven Wetzel met with some two dozen nurses, doctors and staff at Jefferson Torresdale Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia, extending his hands over them in prayer for “the ones who cannot be isolated.”

“Blessed are the hands that are raw from scrubbing and sanitizing,” he said. “Blessed are the shoulders that carry the weight of life and death.”

For Father Wetzel, the gathering was a natural extension of his Michael the Archangel Ministry Program at the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 5.

Named for the patron of police officers, the outreach — which Father Wetzel describes as “multidenominational, rather than nondenominational”– provides pastoral care, crisis ministry and spiritual enrichment opportunities.

Services include hospital visits, bereavement support, funeral rites and pastoral counseling to some 14,000 active and retired PPD members and their families – a community Father Wetzel calls “the city’s largest parish.”

The hospital staff are members of that family, he said, since Philadelphia police officers are often brought to Jefferson Torresdale for treatment.

Father Wetzel, in turn, is “part of the (PPD) team,” said FOP president John McNesby, who was also on hand for the May 21 event.

“Whatever he does, we’re locked arm in arm,” said McNesby.

That solidarity is more critical than ever as first responders continue to battle the pandemic while confronting ongoing public health concerns such as gun violence and addiction.

In his blessing, which formed a kind of beatitudes for medical professionals, Father Wetzel acknowledged the exhaustion and discouragement experienced by health care workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Blessed are the hearts that are frightened and breaking,” he said. “Blessed are those who are overwhelmed …who are found weeping in secret corners of emergency rooms … who weep openly with us, so that even our tears have companions.”

Teresa Giamboi, administrative director of the hospital’s cancer program, said that the blessing offered “a message of hope and faith at a time that it’s greatly needed.”

“Faith is incredibly important, given the current situation,” said Giamboi, a member of St. Jerome Parish in Philadelphia, adding that many hospital staff are also “local to this area and part of the Archdiocese.”

Registered nurse Katie O’Brien said Father Wetzel’s blessing brought tears to her eyes, since it affirmed the work of the hospital staff and enabled them to “feel the love.”

At Philadelphia’s Jefferson Torresdale Hospital, registered nurse KatieO’Brien (left) reflects with director of nursing practice Beatrice Leyden on a May 21 blessing of staff given by Oblate Father Steven Wetzel to strengthen health care workers amid the COVID-19 crisis. (Gina Christian)

A member of Our Lady of Calvary Parish in the city’s Millbrook section, O’Brien said her faith has been essential in sustaining her work during the pandemic.

She participates in the nightly online rosary hosted by archdiocesan evangelization director Meghan Cokeley, often sitting in her car in the hospital’s parking garage to do so.

“I’ll pray the rosary before I go home, just so I can decompress and feel God’s presence, and know that we’re not alone,” she said. “God is here with us helping us through all this.”

Beatrice Leyden, director of nursing clinical practice at the hospital, said she was proud of how health care workers and their industry colleagues had embraced their jobs “as vocations” amid the coronavirus.

“Nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, dietary professionals, supply chain workers, cleaners – it’s impressive, and it really touches you,” said Leyden, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Newtown.

O’Brien said that tasks such as feeding her patients enable her to view her profession as a means of “doing God’s work,” especially as those she cares for are unable to receive visitors due to COVID-19 precautions.

“I was standing at one woman’s bedside the other day, and her son’s biggest concern was that she would be fed,” said O’Brien. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m here. I’ll take care of her.’”

Yet as a health care worker, O’Brien admitted she’s uncomfortable with being called a hero.

“I’m just doing what I was called to do,” she said.

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Read the full text of Oblate Father Steven Wetzel’s May 21 blessing of health care workers at Jefferson Torresdale Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia:

“Beatitudes for Health Care Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic”

Blessed are the ones who cannot be isolated.
Blessed are the doctors, the nurses, chaplains, hospital staff.
Blessed are the hands that are raw from scrubbing and sanitizing, the palms that glisten with the oil of healing.
Blessed are the shoulders that carry the weight of life and death.
Blessed are the feet that are aching from standing at bedsides and running between rooms.
Blessed are the hearts that are frightened and breaking.
Blessed are the mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, sisters and brothers, partners and friends, who cannot go home.
Blessed are the families who become isolated from each other, the ones who sacrifice their own comfort, that we need not be alone in our suffering.
Blessed are the sick, the dying, those who bear the image of Christ Jesus before us.
Blessed are those who believe that when part of the body suffers, we all suffer.
Blessed are those who look upon this secret work as a gift.
Blessed are those who have had enough.
Blessed are those who are overwhelmed.
Blessed are those who lack the space to process all that lies ahead.
Blessed are the ones who are found weeping in secret corners of emergency rooms, so that we might see a strong face to greet our need.
Blessed are those who weep openly with us, so that even our tears have companions.
Blessed are You, O God, quietly holding each of us along the way.
Come quickly, abide unceasingly, love us …
Give us the help we need to see our way out.
This we pray through Christ Our Lord. Amen.