Fr. Matthias Amuzu has been a hospital chaplain since 2015. Photo courtesy Catholic Charismatic Renewal Council
  • June 24, 2020

Being a hospital chaplain during a pandemic means finding ways to deal with constant suffering.

“Every day I see suffering,” said Fr. Matthias Amuzu. “Every day I see death.”

Named chaplain to downtown Toronto hospitals in 2015, Amuzu says COVID-19 has created added challenges, but not impacted his ability to connect with people in their times of despair.

“It’s a very sensitive and complex situation,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of going to give communion and leaving.

“No. You have to journey with people in their pain. You have journey with them in their struggle. You have to journey with them in their challenges. You have to journey with them to the end.”

He calls it “a very powerful ministry,” one that he loves with “my heart and soul,” despite new hurdles created by the pandemic.

“The challenge for the past three months, when COVID really became a reality, was having to keep the distance,” he said. “Sometimes they hold your hand and say ‘Father, I’m scared,’ and you have to give hope at that point. Very often we do it, thank God. Some recover and unfortunately some also die.”

He is not able to carry any of his prayer books when visiting COVID-19 patients due to safety restrictions.

More than just visiting the sick, Amuzu is often the sole spiritual support for families managing the stress and emotional rollercoaster of having a loved one in hospital. He is there for as long as a family needs him, including presiding over funeral services.

He understands that personal protective equipment is not 100-per-cent effective, yet he refuses to allow that to impede his work. He’s grateful God has protected him and he appreciates the help he’s received from other frontline staff, particularly when ministering to patients in isolation. 

“In one case a person was really coughing and there was fear that the whole room might be infected,” recalled Amuzu. “There was a nurse who came in with me and handed me everything I needed at just the right time. You don’t see that very often in infectious cases like that. Everybody wants to do what they have to do as quick as possible, so I was really touched by the kindness and compassion she gave me.”

Born in Accra, Ghana, in West Africa, Amuzu was ordained in 1997 before emigrating to Canada in 2012 to further his studies at the University of Toronto. He began doing part-time chaplaincy work as a student before entering full-time hospital ministry.

He is on call Monday to Thursday at six Toronto hospitals: St. Michael’s, Sick Kids, Princess Margaret, Mount Sinai, Toronto General and Toronto Western. He also ministers on weekends at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Being strong for families can take a toll, but in the challenging moments where the weight of his ministry becomes overwhelming, he is grateful to have colleagues to lean on for strength and for comfort.

“Sometimes I go home, and I cannot eat,” admits Amuzu. “I talk with my colleagues all over the world, and I discuss things with my bishop.

“You can’t keep all of that in your head or you will die yourself. I just share what I see, and they give me that kind of hope and encouragement. Sometimes I ask for prayers. We’re all human.”

He says he is humbled and grateful to be able to provide strength for others in their most difficult moments.

“I will be very happy to get somebody to talk to me and to prepare me for death one day when I’m in that situation,” he said. “Whether we are alive or dead our lives belong to God. In our hopeless situation, that’s when He comes in to prove to us that He is God.”

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