I read this great editorial by Pope Francis that was published by the New York Times a couple months ago. It was titled “A Crisis Reveals What Is in Our Hearts” and was about the COVID-19 pandemic. The piece was fittingly published the morning after a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down restrictions of religious gathering sizes in New York. Pope Francis wrote about responses to restrictions put in place by governments in order to quell outbreaks around the world. He said, “[G]roups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions – as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom! Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate.” I am not a Catholic, but I find his words to be a perfect response to this moment.
I thought of the Pope’s statements again as I watched a church service from a computer screen and saw dozens of unmasked churchgoers in the pews. I found myself struggling to listen to anything the pastor said, instead fixating on those choosing not to wear a mask. Many Christian churches have refused to take this pandemic seriously, specifically my family’s church. I know that not all Christian churches are as reckless as my own, but I am fairly certain that my experience is not novel or singular. This issue is personal for me as it is for many others around the world. My father is an infectious disease specialist at a local hospital. I have watched him over the course of this pandemic work extraordinarily long hours, constantly field phone calls and text messages from coworkers and family alike, and treat hundreds of COVID patients. He has watched as so many people – from the young and healthy to elderly and frail patients – lost their lives to COVID.
It seems a failure of my church, and maybe more broadly of Christians in America, that so many who say they are Christians choose not to wear a mask. Have these Christians refusing to wear a mask any concern for humanity? What of the common good and Jesus’ command to love others? I believe that Pope Francis presents us with a genuinely Christian (and human) call to action: “The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.” This call to action is a comfort when my own religious community has chosen to reject our reality.
My own experience has left a rather sour taste in my mouth when it comes to Christianity and religious community. What has your religious experience been like during the pandemic? Have those in your faith community taken COVID-19 seriously, or have they disregarded rules and medical advice? I hope that your own experience has been one of solidarity in the pursuit of a common good.