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Parish nurse recommends spiritual medicine to combat coronavirus

Leonie Rastas: “Anyone who has air in their lungs and skin on their hands who could transmit this is at risk to the person beside them.”

WE know to wash our hands for the time it takes to say the Our Father, and it’s abundantly clear how close we can be to the nearest person in the supermarket.

But in addition to these obligatory recommendations from Australian health officials, parish nurse Leonie Rastas also believes Australians should improve their spiritual health while in self-isolation.

The co-founder of the Pastoral Healthcare Network Australia is passionate about integrating faith with healthcare, and has spent 17 years working in parishes to raise up parish nurses, specialist healthcare professionals who provide spiritual and physical care for Catholics.

With the closure of churches, the Brisbane-based nurse originally from Geelong said the best antidote to the anxiety caused by the COVID-19 crisis was prayer in the home.

“For me this is a call to strengthen our personal relationship with God,” Mrs Rastas said.

“All we’ve got to work with is food, isolation, exercise and God.”

Mrs Rastas, who began her healthcare profession in microbiology, said although many Catholics were devastated to lose contact with their churches, from a health perspective, closing them was the right thing to do.

“We’re all humans, we’re not supernatural beings once we go into the church,”she said.

“Anyone who has air in their lungs and skin on their hands who could transmit this is at risk to the person beside them.

“Closing the churches is really calling us to go straight to God.”

One important suggestion Mrs Rastas has is to write an “isolation plan” and mark out specific times for prayer.

“That was a really good visual way of mapping out what I will do to stay physically healthy and look after the mind and the spirit,” Mrs Rastas said.

She and her husband also penned a daily planner, listing out activities to do around the house, and top of the list was to say the Ignatian prayer.

“Even when we’ve made our list of things that I could do inside the home, we became alarmed that we mightn’t have enough time to finish it all,” she said.

Mrs Rastas also suggested using online prayer chapels, such as Sacred Space prayers, a website that delivers online prayer requests to enclosed religious orders.

Another useful spiritual exercise, but one that might be uncomfortable for most people, was to consider an end-of-life plan.

The PHNA promotes Five Wishes Australia, a document of the Australian government’s advance care directive.

The document outlines the personal, emotional and spiritual, and medical needs of a person that can be legally binding.

It can also include specific information such as the hymns you want in your funeral.

The original form was approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and is available on the PHNA website for free during the pandemic.

“It gives people, especially the older people who worry their kids haven’t been to Mass for 100 years, it gives them that opportunity to say who you want to make decisions, the kind of treatment you want, how comfortable you want to be, and how you want people to treat you when you’re dying, who you want in your room – we won’t have a lot of choice in this climate – what you want your loved ones to know, opportunities to forgive anyone who has hurt you and ask for forgiveness to anyone you haven’t made peace with,” Mrs Rastas said.

“Ideally the aging with dignity people recommend that it should be done by every family early, well before you’re sick.”

For more resources including links to an isolation plan and the Five Wishes Australia, visit

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