Hospital chaplain on helping people overcome their loneliness

Jakub Jírovec

While most people in the Czech Republic are looking forward to spending the festive season with their family and loved ones, some have to spend Christmas on their own, bound to a hospital bed. To make the difficult time easier for them, Prague’s Bulovka hospital has been providing the assistance of a chaplain.

The hospital chapel | Photo: Fakultní nemocnice Bulovka

The Bulovka hospital in Prague has been providing pastoral care to patients for over two decades. Roman Catholic Priest Jakub Jírovec joined the staff there two years ago, before the first outbreak of Covid. He says he was driven to the job by the old Christian duty of caring for the sick.

“I have a spine problem myself and I thought I could understand the despair that sick people sometimes experience more than a young, healthy person. Besides, there is an ancient Christian tradition that tells us to care for the sick, to visit and encourage them.”

He says that when he first started working in the hospital, he was taken aback by the amount of suffering and loneliness in this time and age:

“But I was also pleasantly surprised by the patience of the nurses and orderlies, and by their sense of humour. When the coronavirus broke out, they had to withstand tremendous mental and physical pressure.”

Jakub Jírovec says it takes a while for some patients to open up and accept his help. Some also tend to get frightened when he first appears in the room, associating his presence with the last rites:

Photo: Dalibor Glück,  ČTK

“Overall, I would say the reaction has been positive. Of course, there are people who push me away and who don't want to talk. But after a while, when they get used to me being there, they might come up and say they would like to talk to me.”

The main duty of the hospital chaplain is to offer comfort and guidance to people who are experiencing the toughest moments in their life.

Twice a week he serves mass in the hospital chapel, and three times a week he visits patients, listening to their problems and worries:

The Bulovka hospital in Prague | Photo:  Mohylek,  Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

“Most of the patients I meet are grandparents, so of course, they tell me about their worries concerning their children and grandchildren.  The loneliness that bubbles up scares me sometimes. We often discuss pets and things like that, but I try to steer the conversation to other topics, with all respect to dogs and cats.”

Jakub Jírovec says his presence in the hospital is especially important during the Christmas season, when it is particularly hard for the patients to be separated from their families and friends but he also offers assistance to the hospital staff, who have been under immense pressure during the Covid pandemic.