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Lawrence hospital chaplain reflects on pandemic's impact as Mass. approaches 20,000 COVID deaths06:53
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Massachusetts is about to reach a grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic: within the next few days, 20,000 residents will have died from COVID-19.

Among the frontline workers who are critical to the care of COVID patients are hospital chaplains, who pray with and provide comfort to people in their final days and moments.

The Rev. Thomas "Mac" McSweeney is the lead interfaith chaplain at Lawrence General Hospital. The city of Lawrence has one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the state, as well as one of the highest poverty rates. McSweeney ministers to many of those COVID patients — sometimes right in the room, suited up in personal protective equipment, and sometimes through a door or window in the room.

McSweeney spoke with WBUR's All Things Considered about his work with the patients.

"When you go into the room, they're wearing a johnny, and you have no clue about their wealth or their background. In other words, they're all the same to me," McSweeney said. "I have had people who have had high incomes and some who are homeless. ... I want to honor God by the way that I reach out to those people and want to make a difference for them. And it also doesn't matter if they have any kind of religious background or not."

McSweeney also provides support to weary nurses and doctors. During earlier surges in the pandemic, he said, he made cards to deliver to fellow hospital staffers, along with chocolates. He read from one of those cards he wrote:

"May self-sacrificing love flow from you as you serve. May joy be yours in abundance. May peace fill your heart and give you a contentment and a song on your heart. May patience be yours just as you need it. ... May your gentleness be manifest to those who are most vulnerable. ... May each of these characteristics be in you, so that people thank God because they had you nearby when they needed you."

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