“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (John 2:14-16).
As our community comes together in the face of scary news reports, statistics, and uncertain days ahead, it is fascinating, honoring, and humbling to look back on Catholics in crises — the missionaries, religious, and lay individuals, who, throughout history, have united to provide aid, hope, and healing. As Catholics, we are called to serve at the margins; these people are the ultimate example.
In 1804, a Spanish mission set out to bring the smallpox vaccine to the New World, where it was ravaging communities. The Church played a critical role in establishing vaccine standards and safety, as well as immunization records for vulnerable communities. It must be noted that the introduction of smallpox and the subsequent vaccination program were largely unjust and painful experiences for many of the indigenous populations of South America; however, this vaccination mission was instrumental in curbing the spread of smallpox, and undoubtedly saved thousands of lives.
In 1854, a brave group of Sisters of Mercy left Kinsale, Ireland bound for San Francisco. In the rough-and-tumble of the early Gold Rush, the sisters initially faced massive religious persecution. Just one year after arriving, however, the eight sisters mobilized a massive nursing campaign to guide the city through a devastating cholera epidemic, winning over city officials and citizens alike. Their compassion and willingness to take in those most in need, including the elderly, orphaned children, and homeless women, surprised everyone.
In 1906, the same Sisters of Mercy opened a tent hospital in Golden Gate Park to serve those injured, homeless, or displaced because of the devastating fires and earthquakes. Dominican sisters from Mission San Jose gave up their house in order to shelter dozens of children made homeless through the devastation. They slept in stables for months in order to provide those struggling to rebuild their lives with a comfortable living space.
Catholics step up to meet social crises too — poverty, violence, and human rights violations. St. Teresa of Calcutta dedicated her life to helping the poor and disenfranchised — from giving the poor and suffering deaths of dignity to establishing resource centers for people suffering from leprosy, she truly served from the heart of Christ.
Fr. Greg Boyle, who founded Homeboy Industries (one of the largest support networks in existence for men and women who were previously incarcerated or gang-involved), says it best, when he asks: “You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship. Kinship — not serving the other, but being one with the other.”
Stay safe; check in on your friends and family; spend a little extra time in prayer; and perhaps contemplate how you might better serve those on the margins, both currently and in the coming weeks.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Father Roger Gustafson