NEW YORK — Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle commended the staff of a New York hospital for being “the hands of God” during the frantic early stages of the pandemic while visiting with staff of the health care facility.
During the June 2 visit to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, Tagle, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, spoke of the ministry to the sick as a unique encounter with the most vulnerable as well as with families, and the community.
“Reaching our limit as human beings becomes a moment of encounter at a time when we need others so much,” he told staff members gathered in a conference room and via a virtual town hall.
“Use your talents, your skills, but always continue to come to the sick as a brother, a sister, as family. That will be a source of consolation,” he said during the visit, which was coordinated by the New York-based Pontifical Mission Societies in the U.S.
Msgr. Kieran Harrington, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, grew up in the neighborhood surrounding the hospital. He recalled conversations with hospital workers who would cry from all they witnessed and experienced, but who persevered every day to help those who needed care.
At the height of the pandemic in early 2020 in New York City, the hospital had a patient roster that was over 230 percent capacity, and an average of 14 people were dying a day.
Helen Arteaga Landaverde, Elmhurst’s CEO, welcomed the cardinal, saying that his presence at the hospital “says that Pope Francis knows we’re here.”
The public hospital serves about 1.1 million people, many of them living in poverty, in an ethnically diverse community. “There are 125 languages spoken by the staff,” she said. “We have a love and commitment to community.”
“This is the people’s hospital,” said Father Manuel Rodriguez, pastor of nearby Our Lady of Sorrows Church, who introduced Tagle. “This is the hospital of the poor, a house of mercy.”
During his visit, Tagle anointed an adult patient on one floor, and a newborn in the neonatal intensive care unit. He also prayed with parents of another infant in the unit.
Dr. Jonathan Vincent Reyes called the cardinal’s visit “hopeful,” adding “even the news of his coming was uplifting. It’s good to hear positive talk in the team room, to feel supported.”
Completing his three-year residency, Reyes will become Elmhurst’s chief resident for internal medicine. A day earlier, Reyes’ father — also named Jonathan and a permanent deacon — met Tagle at a celebration in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of devotion to St. Lorenzo Ruiz in the U.S.
Tagle’s day continued with a brief stop at nearby Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary. Founded in 1914, the high school is the minor seminary for the Diocese of Brooklyn, and today welcomes young men from the neighboring Rockville Centre Diocese and the New York Archdiocese.
About 120 students gathered on the steps of the school, singing the “Salve Regina” as Tagle placed flowers near a statue of Mary and prayed.
“It is important to be young,” the cardinal reminded the students. “It is a moment of grace you can carry with you all your life. Don’t stop searching. Be humble and allow yourself to be guided.”
Concluding the gathering outside the school, student Daniel Schilling told the cardinal, “Always remember you have brothers here. And tell the Holy Father we love him and pray for him and you.”
To start the day, Tagle celebrated Mass with the staff of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the New York office and reinforced the message of the hope born within the church’s mission of evangelization.
“The readings today console us,” he said during the Mass. “Jesus prayed for his disciples as he prays now for us. His prayer was that we be one, and the unity of us as disciples has a missionary dimension: That they may believe that you sent me, Jesus says.”
In the mission of witnessing to Jesus, he added, “we work for authenticity as we trust that God will not abandon us, that he will transform disappointments into opportunities for mission.”
Following Mass, Tagle blessed a photograph of Blessed Pauline Marie Jaricot, founder of the first of the papal mission societies, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, in 1822. He had presided at the Mass for her beatification in Lyon, France, May 22.