by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Concern about the coronavirus continues to dominate the news.
Last week’s Leaven included an article about guidelines that had been sent to parishes and schools on prudent prevention efforts to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, as well as other respiratory viruses like the flu.
As of the writing of this article, Kansas remains a low-risk area for contracting the coronavirus. I want to assure you as the threat of the coronavirus in our community continues to unfold, the archdiocese will reassess our guidance to parishes and follow faithfully the directions of public health officials to minimize the potential risk to our parishioners and students.
For the current flu season (Oct. 1, 2019 – Feb. 29, 2020) the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates: 1) between 34 million to 49 million Americans have contracted the flu; 2) resulting in 16-23 million medical visits and 350,000 – 620,000 hospitalizations; and 3) causing 20,000 – 52,000 flu-related deaths.
The coronavirus has attracted much more attention because it is both new and appears to have a significantly higher mortality rate compared to the flu.
However, in South Korea, where there has been a massive effort to test for the virus, the death rate is much lower. There is good news and bad news in this fact.
The bad news is that this suggests there are probably more cases of coronavirus in our country than have been detected.
The good news is that coronavirus is much less lethal than current statistics suggest. Just as for the flu, those most at risk are the elderly or those with pre-existing, compromising health conditions.
But according to the CDC, the virus is capable of spreading easily and sustainably in the community, so that is an additional cause of concern.
I am not a medical doctor or health expert. For the best medical advice, I encourage you to check nationally the CDC website and locally the Kansas Department for Health — kdheks.gov — and click on the COVID-19 icon.
At the same time, our Catholic faith provides insight and wisdom on how to understand and respond to this most recent health scare. As Catholics, we believe that through the waters of baptism, our bodies became temples of God.
We carry the very life of God within us. We are called to care for our bodies with the same reverence that we give to a church or tabernacle. This requires that we use prudence in doing our best to care for these living temples — our bodies.
Our faith also challenges us to recognize our fellow Christians as living temples of God, as well as to respect every human being who in the eyes of God, no matter their religious beliefs, is of such value that Jesus shed his blood on Calvary.
Thus, we owe every other human being the reverence for one whom Jesus considered to be worthy of his enduring the crucifixion. We are called to do what is prudently possible in protecting the health and well-being of every other human being with whom we share planet earth.
This requires us to observe the practices suggested by public health officials to protect others from unnecessary risks. When we are sick and contagious, we should not go to Mass, lest we infect someone else with a virus that could place them at serious risk.
At the same time, Our Lord counsels us in every circumstance to be not afraid. As Catholics, we naturally are concerned about our own health, the health of those we love and the health of every human being.
At the same time, while we are not immune to infectious diseases, we should be immune to panic and fear.
For those who do not believe in God or heaven, it is natural to cling desperately to life in this world and to attempt futilely to eliminate all possible risks.
Our Catholic faith forms us to treasure our bodies and care for them prudently, while at the same time to be courageous in our efforts to bring God’s love and hope to the sick, the dying and the despairing.
Throughout the church’s history, there are examples of countless saints — St. Damien of Molokai, St. Marianne Cope, Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Camillus de Lellis, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. John of God, to name only a few — who risked their own health and lives in caring for the sick and the suffering.
Now, during this time of concern about public health risks, we are more aware than ever of the importance of doctors, nurses, health care workers and those charged with protecting the public health of our nation and local communities.
Let us pray that Our Lord will guard them as they both care for the sick and strive to protect our communities.
As we prepare for the great feast of Easter, we trust in Our Lord, the divine physician, who healed so many during his life and ministry, but who ultimately came to conquer death and give us the sure and certain hope of life forever with him and all the saints. With this blessed assurance, we can be both prudent and fearless. Be not afraid!