In less than two weeks New York has gone from a state concerned with rising levels of coronavirus cases to the epicenter of the pandemic in this country. Part of the reason is that greatly accelerated testing programs are confirming cases that already were here. It’s also true that the highly contagious virus is barreling around the world at warp speed and our densely populated metro area is in its path. New Yorkers began the week in an eerie environment, with schools closed, social and religious gatherings temporarily banned and most people working from home. All of this while desperately overburdened hospitals scramble for scarce supplies to protect staff members and save patients’ lives. To say it’s an unsettling situation is an understatement. In times like this, Catholics tend to flock to their churches for comfort, maintaining their connection to God when all around is chaos. With religious services, including Catholic Masses, suspended in all houses of worship, even that connection seems broken. It isn’t, though. Cardinal Dolan may not be offering public Masses at St. Patrick’s Cathedral these days, but he is offering private Masses there broadcast on tele
vision and through live streaming, communicating with us on social media, on television and through his blog and column in Catholic New York. In an interview on the “Today” show conducted via Skype this week, he said “faith is more radiant” to God when we maintain it even if unable to attend a service. “God is with us,” he said. We’d also like to remind readers that no matter where you are or what you do, the background state of heightened alert and disruption of routine promotes a feeling of helplessness, magnifying our weaknesses and fears even if we don’t fully realize it’s happening. It’s important, then, to remain grounded. Slow down and make time each day for prayer. If we cannot be in personal contact with our family and friends, we can stay connected anyway by phone, email and social media. We can and should take breaks from the 24-hour news cycle and avoid engaging in pointless social media debates—saving energy for taking care of ourselves, our families and our responsibilities to school and work. The older folks among us can recall numerous times when events changed our lives forever, and yet, here we are. Not many of us in this country
remember wartime rationing, polio, smallpox or impending nuclear war, and some have only vague memories of more recent events like widespread civil unrest and riots, gasoline shortages, 9/11 and other “unprecedented” events. Yet, here we are. Changed. Different. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. Here we are again, in an “unprecedented” crisis. We don’t know how or when it will turn, but we do know that it will turn and we pray we’ll come out of it stronger in mind, body and faith. Pope Francis, in a response to the ongoing pandemic, will give an extraordinary “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing on Friday, March 27, at 6 p.m. Rome time. The special blessing—usually given only immediately after a new pope’s election and on Christmas and Easter—will be offered in an empty St. Peter’s Square because all of Italy is on lockdown to prevent further spread of the virus. “To the pandemic of the virus we want to respond with the universality of prayer, compassion and tenderness,” the pope said. “Let’s stay united. Let us make those who are alone and tested feel our closeness.” We urge all to join the pope in spirit and in prayer. There is light.