As the corona virus began to spread, I began to think about how are we to respond as followers of Christ.
There are all sorts of controversies about the prohibition of public Masses in many parts of the world, including Rome, and the closing of churches. In the interest of the common good, the health of the community, I am not opposed to such efforts. I have spoken to a friend here who, in my mind, doesn’t seem serious enough in terms of the limitation of numbers attending Masses. It’s not about my health; it’s not about providing for the pastoral needs of the people by Masses; it’s about the life and health of the majority of people.
But I still find myself moved by two stories of the response of people of faith in the face of epidemics.
As the epidemic became more serious, I remembered a story about Saint John Bosco. In the midst of a cholera epidemic in Turin in 1854, Don Bosco mobilized youth to assist the sick and bring them to places of quarantine. More than 40 helped him respond to the needs of the poor. According to one account, not one caught cholera. This was not only a matter of prayer. Don Bosco urged precautionary measures. Each boy carried a flagon of vinegar that they rubbed on their hands after touching a sick person. They didn’t have anti-bacterial gel, but vinegar did the trick for them in the face of cholera.
The other response is the story of the martyrs of charity of Alexandria. A major pandemic ravaged the Roman empire from 249 to 263.At one point it killed 5000 in Rome in one day.
The witness of the Christians in Alexandria in 261 was truly a sign of God’s love. I first read of it in Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints. Here is what I found on a University of Notre Dame web site:
When the city fell apart from fear, sickness, and death, Christians stood tall—they disregarded the danger from the persecution, and from their own exposure to the plague, and cared for the suffering. They tended sick and dying people, carrying the dead on their own shoulders for a proper burial.
The bishop of Alexandria, St. Dionysius, wrote: “Many who had healed others became victims themselves. The best of our brethren have been taken from us in this manner: some were priests, others deacons, and some laity of great worth. This death, with the faith that accompanied it, appears to be little inferior to martyrdom itself.”
In the face of these witnesses, how am I to respond?
The government of Honduras has issued a curfew for eight days. No public meetings, even religious services. I would love to visit the sick, but travel is restricted and, even more, I am concerned about not infecting them.
As a compromise, I spoke today to a nurse at the local public health center and told her that I was available to take people to the hospital if they cannot find any other transportation. It’s very little, but it’s what I consider possible and prudent at this time.
Pray for us, that we may respond, witnessing God’s love.
Image of a work of Kathe Kollwitz in a museum in Köln, Germany.