Monday, 2 March 2020

Coronavirus, Lourdes and St Damien of Molokai

Last night as part of our Lenten routine with the children we decided to watch 'Molokai: The Story of Fr Damien' , the story of an ordinary priest who truly gave everything and more for the love of Christ and the pastoral care of the flock that he had been entrusted.

Damien knew that by boarding the ship to that little island full of Lepers he was probably signing his own death sentence but nevertheless the call to serve those who most needed the love and comfort of Christ was stronger.

As he arrived in Molokai two actions mark his mission...  As he enters the Church he kneels down by the crucifix and offers himself completely to God with no reservation and second looking at a young leper in the eyes, seeing his suffering he shakes his hand almost as a sign of agreeing to bear their cross with them.

In the pit of death, in the darkest hour, when everything was lost and despair was waiting to conquer, Fr Damien comes to bring a ray of light. He comes to restore the dignity that belongs to every human being which no human authority was willing to grant to these people doomed to die.

Christ, through Damien, comes with power in Molokai, people are converted, are fed with both spiritual and natural food, they start praying, singing, farming, children start playing again... joy is restored, suffering embraced and a community of people walking towards heaven established little by little.

We went to bed truly thanking God for the great example of the Saints and asked Saint Damien to pray for us...

We awoke to see the headline that the baths in Lourdes had been closed for the foreseeable future to avoid the spreading of the Coronavirus. This came as a total shock to us and as we got ready to attend Sunday Mass we could hardly articulate what we were feeling...

Firstly how ridiculous it all was... Was this really happening? On what grounds? ... on the grounds that some 'might be ill'? Wasn't it Our Lady herself who told Bernadette to "Go to the Spring, drink of it and wash yourself"? For over a century people with all sorts of illnesses have gone with the hope of being healed, whether spiritually or physically to these waters.

I have been to Lourdes so many times over my 40 years and my first memory of it was when I was 3 or 4 years old... I remember seeing so many pilgrims - disabled, disfigured, blind, with skin diseases - all queuing up to be bathed in those waters where Our Lady had invited the faithful to wash. No one was ever refused, no sinner, no cripple, no matter how unwell they were! No one was ever denied entry and no one ever got ill from bathing in the same waters as a 'leper.'

So what has changed? We have changed, the Church has perhaps changed! As Fr Lawrence Lew pointed out this morning in a Facebook thread we started "our official reactions to the threat of this pandemic reflects our loss of faith, and an absence of both the sense of the supernatural and of the value of redemptive suffering."

Has Europe completely lost her faith? Why does the Church feel the need to constantly lower herself to the people and play by the law of the world rather than raise her people up closer and closer to God through Christ our Redeemer?

Yes we have become lukewarm Christians and a people who doesn't believe that Christ is alive and that having Heaven as our ONLY goal is where our happiness and fulfillment abides. We invest in education, career, possessions, fame, success...  We can't put up with the slightest discomfort and everything is done for ourselves. We have become selfish. We have replaced Christ with our SELF. We are afraid to die and we are trying to do anything possible to live longer... we perhaps live with the illusion that we WILL live forever.

Europe has lost that sense of the Supernatural ... Where have most of the miracles of newly Canonised Saints taken place? Certainly not in Europe... St Gianna Molla, Brazil, St John Henry Newman, America, and the same goes for the soon to be Blessed Fulton Sheen... Not a single one happened here!! Why? Because we do not believe... and it seems as if Jesus is almost saying 'I am done here' ... 'you refuse to believe...I can't force you to'.

But this is not who Jesus is... He does not give up on us.

Damien of Molokai was a man who placed the Sacraments and the other above everything else, above the fear of contagion. He is a Saint of the same Church standing here today. Why do we forget these examples?

The Coronavirus 'incident' in Lourdes comes as a wake up call that the world does not need the Church to be yet another institution that will do what it is expected of her according to common sense... but rather a Mother who comes with authority and with fearless strength calls her children to real heroism, to go out there, to not be afraid...  to reach out to those who need to encounter Christ. To live for Christ knowing that we are in this world but are not of this world!

The world needs Saints and this calling is for us, today, now and if the Church as an institution has lost faith in herself, the example of the many Saints who have gone before us stands firm and is more than ever asking of us to follow in their footsteps reminding us that:

"whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it". Matthew 16:25


  1. Correction - St. Gianna Molla was not from from Brazil. She was most definitely was from Italy!!

  2. Yes, you are right, Gianna Molla was indeed from Milan, but the miracle that led to her canonization happened in Brazil...