ANYONE still debating whether to get the Covid vaccine or not should “look deep inside and say it’s not just about me,” as we all have “a collective responsibility” to help bring the pain of the pandemic to an end.
That’s the message from well known local priest Fr Gary Donegan, who has witnessed first hand the far reaching heartache the pandemic has caused over the past 18 months. He has now called on those with doubts to follow the advice of Pope Francis in considering the onus on us all to play our part.
“We have a collective responsibility to ease the burden, particularly of the health service, and to ease the burden of people who may have a fighting chance,” said Fr Gary, who recently said a funeral Mass for a young, unvaccinated mother in her early 20s who passed away from the virus when her baby was just ten days old.
“I’m not making a judgement, because who am I to judge anyone, some people are fearful. What I’m saying is, you have to look deep inside and say it’s not just about me.”
Noting that many people may have reservations about vaccine side effects, or even moral questions of how it was developed, the Newtown priest said all medicines, even aspirin and paracetamol, could have adverse effects, and all had to go through an experimental phase in early in their development.
“Pope Francis took it on and basically said the science is there, and the reality is there is almost an obligation not only for yourself but for others,” he said.
Very often one of the only people on hand to provide comfort to bereaved families who have been robbed of the comfort of wakes and full funerals, no matter what they died of, priests like Fr Gary have been uniquely placed to see full extent of the hurt the sadly necessary Covid restrictions have brought. Indeed, following many funerals, he recently experienced first hand the reality of the new mourning process.
“The guy I was closest to in the priesthood, Fr Gerry O’Brien, died in Glasgow after serving 33 years as a priest,” he said. “He couldn’t have a burial, ten of his family went to the graveside. I did a Mass out in Co Down on my own for my closest friend in the priesthood.”
Fr Gary has also seen first hand the burden that has been placed on our health workers. He recalled one night he was returning to his monastery at Crossgar when he stopped at a local shop. Having noticed some commotion at the till, it transpired the shop’s card machine had stopped working and a woman couldn’t pay for her groceries.
Fr Gary went up to the woman and offered to pay for her shopping, and she broke down in tears.
“She was a nurse who had come off the Covid ward in Downpatrick and she was trying to make her way home,” he said. “Her face was still marked with the elastic from wearing the mask for 12 hours, the machine had broke down through no fault of her own. I said I was privileged to get her tea.”
He added: “I had stood out in Crossgar on my own during lockdown on a Thursday night clapping, and the only thing accompanying me was the rabbits and the cows in the background, but I felt an obligation for the people who are on the front line, who have risked their own life, and the sacrifices of their families. I told her it was something practical to buy her tea rather than standing clapping like an eejit on my own.
“If there had have been more vaccines at the time, would she have been as exhausted? It’s not just about ourselves, it’s about others.”
Noting it was still possible to catch the virus after being vaccinated, Fr Gary said there was “a big difference between being quite sick and dying” and said the truth was, Covid was a killer disease.
“The reality is while we’re now opening up broader than we’ve ever been, it’s now more prevalent, there’s now more people dying of it,” he said. “One of the reasons it’s so prevalent here and the numbers are so high is that people are not getting vaccinated.
“At the end of the day, when you think about it, so many of these situations can be prevented.”
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