AN Antrim priest who contracted coronavirus just a week after issuing an impassioned plea to the public to take the condition seriously, is fighting his way back to fitness.
Father James O’Reilly of St. Joseph’s in Greystone a chaplain at Antrim Area Hospital, spoke out in January in a strongly worded social media post.
He had spent weeks sitting with patients who did not have long to live, comforting their families and officiating at funerals.
The priest, who has been hailed as ‘inspirational’ for his online Mass services and other innovations, including a ‘drive-through confession’ during the pandemic, said last month: “I’m just back from Antrim Area anointing a man in his 50s, tomorrow I bury a man from our Parish who had so much more life to live.
“I get the economic challanges and it must be so hard for people.
“But this s**t is real, people are dying, please take it seriously.
“It may not have come to your door yet, but it will.”
His words made headlines all over the world.
However a week later, he took to Facebook again, this time to warn people that now he had also fallen victim to the virus.
“Hey everybody, unfortunately I started feeling unwell yesterday and as a result went for a Covid test this morning which has come back positive.” said Father O’Reilly on January 13.
“Please if I could ask you to stay away from St Joseph’s presbytery for the next ten days for any reason.
“And please pray for me. And all who have Covid.”
Following isolation, Father James returned to the loving arms of his family, recuperating with his parents in Lagmore in Belfast, adding: “I feel like the Lord has been speaking to me powerfully through the last wee while and hopefully will get my thoughts together to share soon.
“Once again thanks for your love, prayers and support.”
And this week he updated his followers with a ‘selfie’ depicting a walk in the Belfast hills.
As well as his spiritual guidance, before the pandemic, the priest was well known in the borough for his own weight loss and fitness regime, encouraging others to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
“I gave every excuse to not get out and go up.” he said.
“Still feeling the effects of Covid on the lungs.
“But when we push ourselves, we will always feel the benefit.”
The cleric added that he couldn’t wait to get back to work.
“I’m still off for a little bit and quite honestly if it was up to me I’d be back yesterday.” he said.
“But those who care for you sometimes have to take that decision out of your hands.
“I could very easy (and have done) feel sorry for myself, but trusting in this season of listening to Him and pushing into his love.
“It’s an opportunity for more exercise, more prayer and I’ve been able to study the Scriptures more than I have since seminary.
“Wherever you are in this crazy time, God wants to show something about yourself.
“Peace and love - God loves ya’