Bishop offers Good Friday blessing to diocese, pandemic victims via helicopter

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, blesses the Diocese of Peoria from aboard an OSF Life Flight helicopter on Good Friday, April 10. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the bishop offered prayers in the air for its victims, their loved ones, and all those providing care. From above downtown Peoria, he offered a blessing in all four directions. (Photo by Msgr. Philip Halfacre)

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, took to the skies via an OSF Life Flight helicopter on Good Friday, April 10,  to offer a blessing to the entire Diocese of Peoria as well as to pray for all affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was happy to do something that may give some comfort to people, especially those folks who, on this Good Friday, are scared about their relatives in the hospital,” said Bishop Jenky moments after landing at the OSF Aviation hangar pad near the Gen. Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport.

Bishop Jenky and Msgr. Philip Halfacre don masks as they prepare to enter a helicopter at the OSF Aviation hangar in Peoria on Good Friday, April 10. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“This kind of illness brings an enormous fear for our people and our country,” continued the bishop, who donned a mask before climbing into the medical transport helicopter at about 1 p.m. for a 12-minute flight to downtown Peoria and back. “And prayer, no matter who’s saying it, can move mountains. I really felt blessed to be praying with and for the diocese today, and for everyone else in Illinois, our country and the world.”

The bishop was accompanied by Msgr. Philip Halfacre, vicar general, as well as OSF pilot and flight nurse Ryan Webb and Kylie Ervin.

The aerial blessing was first proposed midweek by Tomas Wojtowicz, another OSF Life Flight pilot. An initial query was made to the Diocese of Peoria by Steve Mattern, vice president of mission services for OSF HealthCare.

“I asked Msgr. Halfacre if it would be permissible to have a priest, in the current situation, come up into a helicopter and bless our diocese and pray for protection against COVID-19,” said Mattern. “Msgr. Halfacre said the bishop himself would be interested,” so Mattern then received permissions from OSF HealthCare leadership.

Bishop Jenky explained why he was quick to agree.

“OSF is one of our greatest Catholic institutions,” he said of the system owned and operated by The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis that includes 14 hospitals and employs more than 23,000. “Anything the Sisters ask me, I try to do.”

Though favorable weather factored into the decision to fly on Good Friday, Bishop Jenky said the day was appropriate.

“This is one of the holiest days of the year, at a time when we’re living something like we’ve never lived through,” said Bishop Jenky.

During the flight to downtown Peoria and back, Bishop Jenky offered a prayer composed by the Vatican for a “Mass in Time of Pandemic.” The prayer reads, in part, as follows:

“Almighty and eternal God, our refuge in every danger, to whom we turn in our distress; in faith we pray look with compassion on the afflicted, grant eternal rest to the dead, comfort to mourners, healing to the sick, peace to the dying, strength to health care workers, wisdom to our leaders and the courage to reach out to all in love, so that together we may give glory to your holy name.”

Bishop Jenky offers a blessing out the window of an OSF Life Flight helicopter prior to take off on Good Friday. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Once the helicopter reached downtown Peoria — above OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center and nearby St. Mary’s Cathedral — the pilot turned to the north, east, south and west. The bishop then offered a blessing out the helicopter window in each direction.

“We blessed, at this holy time of the year, all the faithful and in a particular way those suffering from the pandemic and those who care for them,” said Msgr. Halfacre, who was taking his first helicopter ride. He and Bishop Jenky expressed gratitude to OSF HealthCare leadership for not only making the flight possible, but especially for the care they are providing and the advice they are giving the Diocese of Peoria.

“They’ve been partners with us all along in how to respond to the present moment,” said Msgr. Halfacre.

“We are not experts on contagious disease,” said Bishop Jenky. “It is a huge comfort to have prudent advice from medical experts and, in our circumstance, from a Catholic hospital system that I completely trust.” In addition to the medical expertise, Bishop Jenky said he is grateful for the “prayer army of Franciscan religious” that regularly pray for the patients in their system.

Mattern said OSF HealthCare staff is “doing great work” during this uncertain time when there are still “a lot of unknowns.” For example, the degree to which the virus might spread in central Illinois has yet to be determined.

But on Good Friday, the region was covered by prayer from the air.

Bishop Jenky said that, despite a stiff wind, the flight was “very easy and very safe. The pilots and the nurse and everyone were very kind.”

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