"This little phrase, 'how are you?' touches me a lot," he said.
"For me, it's a sign of hope to see that not all is lost, that we have a humanity filled with the presence of God, even in faces and in moments we would not expect."
But not all moments are like this, and many patients do not want to see a priest, he said, whether it's because they are not Catholic or they are struggling so much to breathe that they don't have the energy to speak.
"There are some people," he added, "who feel the need to go to Confession or people who see that [their bodies] are not responding to the therapy, and say, OK, I want to reconcile with God as long as I'm alert, as long as I can."
As a chaplain, Pluchinotta said that with the pandemic he has had to rely much more on the doctors and nurses to know when he is needed. Since he cannot enter patients' rooms on his own, they tell him when someone wants the sacraments or needs his presence.
With the health emergency, and his hospital's conversion into a COVID-only hospital, his contact with the sick has lessened, but his interaction with doctors and nurses has grown, he said.
"The doctors and nurses are also beginning to take an interest in pastoral work," he commented. "And so this situation has brought us much closer to the doctors and nurses, who also have worries because they too need pastoral assistance in the hospital."
During Advent, he and the other Catholic chaplain have offered a Mass for employees of the hospital. On Christmas Day, Pluchinotta said they will try to be close to the patients in whatever way possible, "whether bringing a holy card or a blessing."
The chaplains are also putting together a nativity scene, which he said they hope will illustrate that by caring for COVID-19 patients, the hospital workers are also caring for Jesus. But don't tell, he said with a laugh, "it's a surprise!"
Pluchinotto, who is a trained psychologist, has also been offering weekly grief counseling via video call to people whose loved ones have died from the coronavirus.
The priest said he did this kind of counseling before the pandemic, but now it is being organized in cooperation with the hospital. People have really needed this assistance, especially at this time of year, he said.
(Story continues below)
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Pluchinotto wanted people to know that, though this Christmas will be different, the Lord will still come to earth and is still present among us every day.
Offering a word of encouragement, he said: "He becomes man, despite this difficult year, and despite the coronavirus, the Lord becomes man all the same. He has not left us."