Hindu priest offers comfort to hospitalized immigrants & refugees

Sep 16, 2015

A Bhutanese Nepali refugee has made it his mission to visit Buffalo’s hospitalized immigrants and refugees and offer comfort to the very ill and dying.

Khem Khanal is a Hindu priest living in Buffalo. He's still learning English and seeking citizenship. He answered questions about his work through an interpreter, Bishnu Adhikali, a staffer at Journey’s End Refugee Services.

Khem Khanal, Hindu priest living in Buffalo and serving immigrants and refugees.
Credit Photo from Twitter.

"Whenever a priest goes to the person who's dying, the family of that person will be encouraged to do something for the dying person and that it is our custom -- that is our religion and we need to preserve it," said Khanal.

Khanal has been visiting patients at Kaleida Hospitals, standing by their bedsides to offer spiritual guidance. For some, it's their final moments on earth.

"The only help we need is at that time, when somebody is dying," said Khanal. "And in this country we have right to exercise our right, you know."

Like many hospitals, Kaleida offers patients Pastoral Care Services. Patients and families are able to request bedside visits for various faiths. 

"And so, because he's providing ministry to his particular faith community, all I needed was a letter of recommendation as well as him going through our HIPAA process, which he did," said Father Richard Augustyn, Director of Pastoral Care at the Buffalo General Medical Center.

One of the hospital rooms at Kaleida's Gates Hospital.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"I am always looking for clergy people from different cultures as well as faith traditions to do exactly what this Hindu priest is doing," stated Augustyn.       

Augustyn works to expand Kaleida's interfaith services provided at their hospitals. 

"So we fish and we look, and there's a lot of different traditions out there. So once I find them, I keep them in my telephone," noted Augustyn.

"Those who are from Nepal, if they need to seek help from our priest, he was there to help them, to sing the religious hymn," responded Adhikali as he continued to interpret for Khanal. "The Hindu people from the community, he is our great helper."

The Hindu priest demonstrated a prayer song that he performs in a hospital room. It's part of religious customs for some immigrants and refugees. Khanal and Adhikali both explain that the sacredness of mourning the loss of a loved one is much different than the American tradition.

"If we lost our parents, according to our culture and according to our religion, we need to mourn for 30-days, 30-days without doing any work or anything," said Adhikali. 

As Khanal spoke mostly in his language, he managed to transition into speaking some English. "You know my community...how to help community, how to love my religion again. Right now, I think about how to love my community and my religion," said Khanal.