Vigilia or Vela? – Chaplaincy in a new Covid-Driven World*


The Latin text used in the title was taken from a biography of Pope Francis by Austen Ivereigh called, The Great Reformer: Francis The Making of a Radical Pope[1], in which Francis describes the differences between a Bishop who watches over his people (vigilia) as opposed to one who keeps watch for them (vela). In the context of Diocesan management, watching over suggests a certain degree of control to maintain order and discipline, whereas keeping watch suggests hope, the hope of the merciful Father who keeps watch over what is in people’s hearts.

As a Workplace Chaplain, I like my fellow chaplains, feel we really fit best into the latter category of vela – to keep watch. To try and understand how the people we minister to are dealing with the pandemic and its impact on their daily lives both in the home and the workplace, and later perhaps, when we return to whatever our new normal will look like. As the whole of the UK rightly celebrates the success of the vaccine programme, and with a timetable now seemingly offering hope for ending of the lockdown after a whole year, what are the possible implications for our collective and individual ministries in an even more uncertain future?

We always knew that we would have to be flexible while restrictions remained in place, when reaching out to those with whom we provide pastoral and spiritual support. Modern technology has provided a means to keep in touch with each other visually, in particular through use of the Zoom platform for meetings and worship services when it was physically impossible to meet together. Those places which are technically open still only allow entry to essential personnel only. This includes visits to Fire and Police stations, as well as Bus Depots and other transport hubs and manufacturing facilities where many of us carry out our ministries.

But for many of those we minister to in the workplace zoom may not be a realistic option – same for Skype, Facetime,Teams or other similar technology. As companies and businesses begin the process of re-opening hopefully for good, questions such as which staff to bring in from furlough or keep at home or even whether to re-open or not, all need to be considered. With home working likely to be the norm for the foreseeable future for some sectors finding time to meet with groups of individuals even with access to the appropriate technology can be an often daunting and frustrating task. Unless the employer is prepared to allow the necessary window of opportunity for video conferencing to take place, we may find ourselves shut out perhaps inadvertently, as some companies seek understandably to maximise productivity.

With workplace chaplaincy becoming increasingly multi-faith especially within the blue light services, it provides a perfect example of what Pope Francis describes in the same book as “Reconciled Diversity”[2]. Where people of differing faiths and traditions walk together in a common path but one which nobody has to give up any part of who or what they are, and where difference is respected and celebrated.  

This for me sums up the Vela element of service to others whether from a single faith or multi-faith perspective. We face many challenges in our ministries going forward as normality in whatever form returns, where we also have to contend with ever-rising secularism and a culture of cynicism and the me-first outlook. If by working together and acting as that look out for those we seek to serve by using whatever means of communicating are at our disposal, we can be that meaningful presence for people in need to turn to whenever or wherever such need arises. Who provides that need is at first immaterial, it is being there to help, to answer a call perhaps even a prayer from someone (anyone) in need. And there’s likely to be plenty of takers.

In Luke chapter 11 when describing the necessity of perseverance with prayer in verses 9-10 Jesus says, “So I say unto you, Ask, and it will be given you: seek and you shall find: knock, and door will be opened unto you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Many of those we serve will need someone to watch out for them in the coming months. As we pass into the second year of living with this pandemic especially for those who have been directly affected by its ravages, we must stand ready for those who WILL knock; and ensure that WE are behind the door when it opens.

[1] Ivereigh A, The Great Reformer: Francis and the making of a radical Pope (New York: USA, Picador,2014) pp.263-264

[2] Ivereigh, The Great Reformer, p.293

* First posted by author 05.01.21 on and has been updated for post-vaccine roll out