Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service
June 4, 2020 // National

Catholic leaders in COVID crisis encouraged by faith, example

Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a May 28 Facebook Live discussion, two Catholic leaders stressed how the current pandemic is far from over and how in the midst of so much suffering they also have witnessed incredible moments of grace.

The discussion, on the Facebook page of Faith in Public Life, a Washington-based advocacy group, was led by John Gehring, the group’s Catholic program director. He spoke with Sister Kathleen Gallivan, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur and director of spiritual care services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and Kevin Ryan, president and CEO of Covenant House in New York, a global network that serves homeless and trafficked youth.

When asked what the past few months have been like, Sister Kathleen said the hospital, in the heart of Boston, at one point had 200 COVID-19 patients. “It’s like you’re in a war zone is what it feels like a lot,” she said of the tests needed just to come in the building and the required masks and protocol.

A sanctioned homeless encampment in San Francisco is seen May 19, 2020. (CNS photo/Drone Base, Reuters)

A priority for her office is to link patients, who are not allowed visitors, with their families, primarily through donated iPads or tablets. The office also has been providing staff support for medical personnel facing not only physical losses but personal challenges and fears when they go home each day, worried they could bring the virus with them.

Ryan said Covenant House has faced the challenge of many of its young people and staff members alike suffering from COVID-19. The organization converted rooms, and an entire floor in its New York City location, to provide health care. A few staff members had to be hospitalized and two died from COVID-related symptoms.

“We were triaging,” he said of Covenant House life when the epidemic was at its peak in New York. And although it is no longer as bad, it is still a challenge. “We are still in the eye of the hurricane,” he said, noting that many have adjusted to what it feels like or can take comfort from numbers going down. He stressed the coronavirus will not be over until there is more testing, contact tracing and “God willing, a vaccine.”

He said he cannot wrap his arms around recovery, especially when there is still so much unemployment and food insecurity related to the restrictions in place to curb the spread of the virus.

Sister Kathleen similarly acknowledged the pandemic’s challenges will not be gone anytime soon. She said she and her coworkers prayed with and for COVID patients but since many of them are too sick to talk, they have primarily offered spiritual support for family members who have many questions about how God could let this happen to their loved one.

A difficult moment, she said, is when a COVID patient is not doing well “and the family wants a miracle.” She said family members sometimes insist, “God will intervene.”

“God does intervene,” she said, “but it may not be in the way the family was looking for.” Helping them through this is tough, she added.

Although the two leaders both see this time as a huge challenge with many sacrifices, they also acknowledged the generosity they have seen from those helping others or being on the front lines.

“We will get to the other side of this,” said Sister Kathleen, “and hopefully learn and grow from it to be a deeper and richer community.”

Ryan similarly said he has reason for hope because of the example of countless people caring for others. “I don’t feel alone in this one bit,” he added.

And during this sobering time when hospital chaplains are encouraging others to find strength in their faith, Sister Kathleen said she too has found her faith deepening and that the nightly prayers she says with members of her community have nourished her more than ever.

“I turn to my faith more than pre-COVID,” she said.

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