To counter the new wave of Covid infections, the Austrian government imposed a total lockdown on 22 November. At the same time the demand for vaccination increased exponentially.
On the initiative of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn – Metropolitan Archbishop of Vienna and Bailiff Grand Cross of Honour and Devotion of the Order of Malta – a Covid-19 vaccination centre was set up in St Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna. It is being managed by Malteser Hospitaldienst Austria – the Order of Malta’s Austrian Relief Corps – and Johanniter Unfallhilfe.
“St Stephen’s Cathedral is an appropriate place to remind people that vaccinating means protecting themselves and protecting others; it is a charitable gesture,” said Cardinal Christoph Schönborn when opening the vaccination centre. Parish priest Toni Faber also encouraged people to take advantage of the opportunity in Santa Barbara’s chapel: “The church is a place where people have always prayed for their health and for that of their loved ones. The celebration of Mass is not limited by the vaccination service. On the contrary, people are coming to the church who haven’t been here for many years and who perhaps find their way to return to the faith precisely through this occasion.”
Since August, exactly 17,817 vaccinations have been carried out in Santa Barbara’s chapel with the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, 10,123 of them since early November and 2,872 just in the final weekend.
Due to the huge demand, the vaccination service, initially offered only from Thursday to Sunday (from 10 am to 8 pm), has been extended to all days of the week starting from 6 December.
Sometimes the queue of people for vaccination extends well beyond the main entrance of the cathedral, with waiting times of four hours in peak periods. However, the atmosphere is relaxed, and the place, the cathedral programme – where six masses are celebrated on weekdays and nine on Sundays – as well as the music contribute significantly. Many, while waiting for their turn, listen to the homily or rehearsals of the cathedral choir: “The service not only fights the pandemic, but also touches the soul,” comments Gabrielle Scarimbolo, Malteser Austria’s external relations manager.