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Column | Finding Opportunities in the COVID-19 Crisis

Bishop Bonnar


Bishop of Youngstown

Crisis is a word that often means challenge. When we find ourselves in crisis, it is typically a time of intense difficulty often marked with peril of some kind. It goes without saying that the last 18 months have been a time of crisis for the entire world. We have watched, at times helplessly, as innocent people have become stricken with the coronavirus. Some we know and call by name. Others we do not know, yet we feel their pain. Some have died and some continue to suffer long-term effects. We have also seen firsthand how in so many ways the world came to a standstill and our lifestyles have forever changed. The economy is not the same. Supplies are limited. Livelihoods have been lost.

For a short while, it appeared that we were coming out of the dark so to speak. What a joy it was to reconvene with family members, attend sporting events, and go to Mass like before, without restriction. Even though our grief and pain continued, we seemed to have regained some normalcy in our lives.

Unfortunately, the presence of the Delta variant has at least temporarily brought us backward. The Delta variant is unrelenting in going after the unvaccinated and is more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19. As the numbers of those afflicted continue to rise, we are hearing again about the need for masks, social distancing, quarantining and remote learning. The crisis, with all of its obstacles, continues.

Still, every crisis offers not just obstacles but also opportunities. These opportunities occur when we embrace the moment – with all of its challenges – in a spirit of faith, optimism and care. The first go at this crisis saw the opportunities to deepen family bonds, to become more comfortable with solitude, to help our neighbors in a myriad of ways, and to grow in our trust toward God.

I believe that this new wave also presents many opportunities. I’d like to highlight three of them here.

First, I believe that in the face of this crisis there is the opportunity for gratitude to God for the gifts that are ours – which can so easily be taken for granted. The practice of gratitude remains one of the great antidotes to suffering. Gratitude can be a light that shines in the darkness. The gratitude need not just be directed to God in prayer but can extend to family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers alike. In spite of it all, we are blessed!

A second opportunity that emerges in this time of crisis is that of joining in solidarity with one another as a human race – always seeking the common good. We are all in this together. Wherever we live or work, this crisis is real. In this solidarity we share this experience and the realization that the worst of times can bring out the best in all of us. This is a time for us to demonstrate our care and concern for one another as brothers and sisters in the one God. It is a time to truly love our neighbor.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis has spoken about becoming vaccinated as “an act of charity” for the common good. In a recent public service announcement for the Ad Council, “It’s Up To You,” Pope Francis said: “Thanks to God’s grace and to the work of many, we now have vaccines to protect us from COVID-19. Getting the vaccines that are authorized by the respective authorities is an act of love. I pray to God that each one of us can make his or her own small gesture of love, no matter how small, love is always grand.”

Finally, this crisis offers an opportunity for us to stand up and protect life. There has been much debate about the mandate of masks in our schools – both our Catholic schools and many of the public schools in our region. In the case of the temporary mandate for our Catholic schools, this measure has been put in place to protect our children who are not yet able to be vaccinated and to protect all who are most vulnerable. Some parents are arguing in protest: “My kids, my choice.” They feel that the imposition of a mask is a violation of their freedoms. I hear that some lawmakers want to establish a law to ban mask mandates. I understand that this issue brings up strong emotions, often rooted in the case of parents for the care of their children, but as Catholics we need to make respect for life our core concern. We can never be selective or choosy about life – whether it is in the womb or in a classroom. What about other people in the classroom? Shouldn’t our concern for human life extend to every child and teacher in the classroom – especially the most vulnerable. Should personal freedom necessarily take precedence over the common good?

The temporary wearing of a mask also means that, if a child should be exposed, quarantine is less likely as long as he or she does not develop symptoms. As a result, the temporary wearing of masks can guard against not only the contraction of COVID-19 or other illnesses, but also absence from school and the disruption of education. It is so important that our children remain in school without interruption.

Sadly, this situation has on many levels been politicized, causing great disharmony in our communities. This crisis is not about politics but about people, life and love. This is our moment! For the common good, let us work together to embrace these opportunities. In the face of our differences and disagreements with a deadly virus hovering over us, let us continue to pray: “That all may be one.”

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