Fraternal Greetings from Rome. Today is the solemnity of St. Joseph, the patron of the General Curia, who safeguarded the baby Jesus from the wrath of Herod. Today we commend all people afflicted by the pandemic virus Covid-19 to his intercession. We join the whole Church with our hearts raised to the Lord carrying the agony of humanity for divine healing for the sick and ask for the strength and wisdom for health workers and the civil authorities to manage the crisis. So far, no Claretian is known to be affected by the virus.
Italy seems to be at its peak with more than 4,000 new cases and 475 deaths yesterday. There is stillness in the city of Rome as on an Easter day morning. The cities in the country are mostly deserted with occasionally plying cars. People cooperate with the directions of the government and mutually support from their balconies and windows at certain moments. Though disconnected physically, people connect with each other. They pray via video conferences, work from home, attend mass online, and continue studies in the university and make the best of online facilities to support, give solace and disseminate useful information. Just as human inter-connectedness is a carrier for evil, it is also a great potential for communicating love and goodness to one another and build a healthy human society.
Sadly, the virus is now spreading fast to Spain and to other European countries. Covid-19 with its extraordinary capacity to infect and harm thousands of people by accessing the route of human interconnectedness has reached about 173 countries around the world infecting about 236,920 people and claiming 9,829 lives as per the current information. Though the death rate is lower than most epidemics, panic is high because of its rapid transmission and the lack of medical solutions so far. The Schengen countries have shut down their frontiers to prevent the diffusion of the virus.
All of us are in the community except the Superior, Fr. Vicente Sanz (now in Spain for operation) and Br. Carlos Verga (in Argentina after the death of his mother and is now in quarantine). This is the second week we stay home without going out. The catering service still continues, and we take care of the rest of the housekeeping. We do not know how long this quarantine period will last. We do not get out of the house at all. One of us, the econome, at times go for any necessary purchase. Most chaplaincies stopped masses, though some of them ask for the consecrated host for communion service. Public liturgical services are all stopped all over the country. We are not in a panic, but keep ourselves engaged in studies, council sessions and household duties. I can feel the concern of our brothers for the sick and suffering especially for those who would be living alone and might be in a panic.
Today the community took time to share how each of us lives this moment and what we could do as missionaries during this unprecedented event of history. Though there is anxiety and concern about what is going on in the world as the virus spreads unabated, our hearts go to the affected people, the dying and the health workers who brave the virus to take care of the sick. Our brothers find strength and hope in our faith in the Lord of history in whom we find meaning and refuge. The need of the hour is to cooperate responsibly with the collective effort to stop the contagion of the virus by keeping distance, joining with the whole Church in prayer and supporting one another in community and giving solace and hope to those whom we can reach out from a distance. Many of us were expressing concern over the people living alone in houses and those who were living in the streets asking for help. Where would they be now and how would they be managing these days? JPIC Secretary contacted the group of Egidio and offered our services. The minimum we can do to help the country face the pandemic is to collaborate to “break the chain” by “stare a casa” (Stay home) and join with the Church to pray.
We celebrated the Eucharist bringing in our hearts all the people who suffer from the pandemic and the health workers who fight the virus, and we recalled that the Eucharist celebration is now not available to most people in many parts of the world. We prayed for the whole Congregation and the Josephs in the Congregation.
I ask all the Claretians to face this spreading pandemic with the calm and courage of the disciples of the Lord and the zeal of Claret to collaborate with the authorities to arrest its diffusion, support one another in community, and find ways to reach out to the people in need in whatever ways we can do in a responsible way. We should find the strength anchored in the Risen Lord and allowing His love and compassion to flow through all the channels available to us. As missionaries, we participate in the collective effort of humanity to be God’s instrument to win over the pandemic through our intense prayer at personal and community levels. I commend you and your works to the Heart of Mary and the intercession of St. Joseph.
Fr. Mathew Vattamattam
19 March 2020