HOUSTON — Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston prayed for and blessed health care workers, many exhausted from caring for patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, at a recent White Mass.

The annual Mass is celebrated to honor the service of the thousands of first responders and health care professionals who work throughout the area covered by the archdiocese.

“In this difficult, terrible time of COVID-19 in the last eight or nine months, your work has been so intense, draining,” the cardinal said in his homily. “Your response is incredible and magnificent.”

DiNardo encouraged the health care workers, even “in the harshest and most difficult of circumstances,” to always see the “image of God” in their patients.

“You have this gift that is given to you under grace,” he said. He recognized that the pandemic has been almost as traumatic for the health care workers as for the suffering patients.

The White Mass, celebrated Oct. 17, draws its name from the traditional uniform color associated with the health care profession.

DiNardo also passed on his condolences to Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Peña, who was in attendance, after the death of a Houston Fire Department arson bureau investigator in an Oct. 13 shooting.

Following his stroke in March 2019, DiNardo said he became acutely aware of the intensive efforts of health care workers, especially as he continued his rehabilitation.

He said he grew immensely thankful for the hard work and “beautiful ministry” that many workers tirelessly do to improve the lives of those who may be at their weakest.

Part of the Mass included a special litany of prayers, invoking the intercession of patron saints such as Our Lady of Lourdes for the community.

“Inspire them to grow in wisdom and knowledge to help all those created in your image and likeness,” prayed DiNardo, who was the main celebrant of the Mass.

“The pandemic has added another layer of stress, especially in its longevity of months,” said Dr. Carla Falco, president of the Catholic Healthcare Professionals of Houston and. “There have been so many heroic sacrifices. It remains challenging in its impact and the way we provide medical care for all.”

Falco, a pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital, added: “Although hospitals are breathing a sigh of relief … no one knows what the flu season will bring in combination with both illnesses.”

San Jose Clinic, Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center and the Catholic Healthcare Professionals of Houston jointly sponsored the White Mass.

Lt. Col. William P. Mueller, a family physician with the U.S. Air Force, spoke after the Mass on “Catholic Principles in the COVID Pandemic: Achieving the Greatest Good.”

The Mass, which also was attended by members of the Catholic Chaplains Corps of the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese, was open to the public and livestreamed online. Social-distancing policies were observed, and masks were required.

Asked how she has dealt with the pandemic’s stress, Falco said, “We are really dedicating ourselves to personal prayer and leaning on the Lord. He is our rock and will get us through this.”

“We also (receive) the sacraments as much as possible because they are tangible gifts that give us his grace,” she told the Texas Catholic Herald, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Houston is home to the largest medical complex in the world and employs at least 366,000 health care workers at 19,954 health care and social assistance establishments, according to a 2019 report, in addition to 75-plus medical facilities also provide aid throughout the 10-county archdiocese.

Dr. Edward Reece, a plastic and hand surgeon with Baylor College of Medicine, who practices at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, also said focusing on Christ has helped him through the chaos of the pandemic.

“We have had daily Rosaries in the chapel of St. Luke’s when people have time to attend. It is a real blessing,” Reece said.

San Jose Clinic’s CEO and president, Maureen Sanders, and Dr. Diana Grair, the clinic’s medical director, said treating patients with no insurance and high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses can be challenging at any time, but has definitely heightened throughout the past seven months of the pandemic’s impact.

“We’ve had patients who are extremely distressed. They’ve lost jobs and have depression, so many are stressing and are thankful that we are still here to help,” Grair said.

Sanders added, “Initially, many of us thought this would be short-term of three months or through the summer. But the challenge has turned into not even a marathon, but like an Ironman competition.”

San Jose Clinic in mid-August successfully opened a satellite clinic in Fort Bend County, next to Harris County, where Houston is located.

“Focusing on the White Mass and prayer, not only for those health care workers but all those we care for, can help us deal with this new reality,” Sanders said.

Zuñiga writes for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Ramos is a staff writer and designer at the newspaper.