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Activate Catholic Antibodies Against the Coronavirus and the Virus of the Soul

Facing Crises With the Antibodies of Catholicism

by L. V. Díaz

How does one continue the Works of Mercy in the midst of a pandemic? How can one help to keep faith and hope alive when people are worried and anxious and ill and some in their desperation become angry and have even sought scapegoats?

We often hear of the importance of developing antibodies to protect from the new Coronavirus. There is a great deal of uncertainty, though, about whether COVID-19 antibodies can actually ensure that the person who has recovered from the illness is immune to another infection. Questions have arisen about whether various antibody tests are accurate.

Perhaps Catholic antibodies may offer some of the best protection going forward as we try to rebuild our world in the aftermath of this crisis.

Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, editor of La Civilta Cattolica in Rome, gives us a clue of how to respond when he speaks of the Catholic antibodies that can eradicate the virus of fear that overwhelms many – not only the fear of death from the Coronavirus, but fear of the future, fear and suspicion of strangers, of people who are of different cultures, a fear that contact with the other, “the different,” is a risk of contagion of a different sort than a Coronavirus. Spadaro calls this fear of the future and of the other, a virus of the soul.

Presenting the idea that Catholic antibodies can be activated against the virus, the pandemic of fear, anxiety and even hatred in our social and political life, Fr. Spadaro quotes Pope Pius XI, who spoke in 1938 during the Nazis rise to power. He says Pope Pius made it clear at that time how Catholicism possesses the antibodies to eradicate the virus of nationalism (a nationalism very different from a positive love of country), which has raised its head again in our time. Pope Pius said, “Catholic means universal, not racist, not nationalistic, not separatist. Such ideologies are not Christian, but they end up not even being human.”

As Spadaro puts it, “Unlike market-imposed globalization, the Catholic vision is universal and places the person and peoples at the center, recognizing the other, the outsider and the different as a brother and sister.”

With Catholic antibodies, we can face the viruses around us – COVID-19, but also the viruses of the soul.

Catholic antibodies can help us address injustices which have quietly existed, but are now coming into light with the realities of the Coronavirus as it tears apart people’s lives and families and communities.

Glaring inequalities in income, health care, and food insecurity have become more obvious as the crisis has deepened. Reports are coming out each day that the working poor and people of color are suffering more than others from the crisis caused by the Coronavirus. Those who have not been able to afford adequate health care in the past are more at risk. Not only those who are out of work because of stay at home recommendations, but especially those who were already poor are suffering. Aid groups and the United Nations are warning that we are on the brink of a pandemic of hunger. in many countries.

There is a great need for an infusion of Catholic solidarity worldwide.

Pope Francis and Catholic Antibodies

Pope Francis has also used the terminology of Catholic antibodies on several occasions recently. First, in his unique Urbi et Orbi message at this time of year during the Coronavirus crisis. He spoke of these special antibodies in the context of the storm when the disciples in the boat are afraid. The Lord says to the frightened disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Pope Francis applies their experience of the storm to that of our lives today:

“The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly ‘save’ us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.”

Antibodies of Solidarity

Catholic antibodies can help us to go beyond our own worries to concern for others in the world crises we face now and that we will grapple with in the coming months.

In his article on the web site of the Spanish-language periodical Vida Nueva, Pope Francis quoted from Global Pandemic and Universal Brotherhood: Note on the Covid-19 emergency, by the Pontifical Academy for Life, emphasizing that this pandemic needs to be treated with the “antibodies of solidarity”. He expressed his hope that society might find “the necessary antibodies of justice, charity and solidarityto work together to combat not only this epidemic, but also the epidemics of hunger, war, poverty, environmental devastation, and indifference to suffering.

Not to mention that the rebuilding that must take place after the coronavirus cannot happen well if countries turn to arms sales and war instead of justice, charity, and solidarity.

The Present Crisis and Refugees and the Undocumented

Often with everyone focused on the Coronavirus, taking time to think of those who are seeking asylum from war, violence and extreme poverty in their countries, as well as the undocumented already here in the United States may take second or twentieth place.  But their plight is real.

At Casa Juan Diego we are familiar with the realities on the ground in Houston Texas, with the vulnerability and precarity of the undocumented.

Casa Juan Diego is in a unique position to know of the institutionalized inequality and the difficult economic situation that affects undocumented workers even before a disaster hits, because we talk to the people each day. We see a part of the economy that few others see. The needs are often overwhelming for us.

The undocumented are at the heart of the Houston economy. The Coronavirus crisis is especially hard for the immigrant community because of the places they work and because they have no savings. There is no safety net for them. Many work in restaurants across the city, they clean houses and watch children while others are working, and they clean hotels. – those jobs are gone now.

Day laborers who fill many temporary jobs are in a precarious position. Many of the undocumented work in construction where work has decreased; those who continue to work are not able to do social distancing and are exposed to contagion.

Essential Workers

It is ironic that farmworkers, who have been neglected for so many years and have always worked under very difficult conditions, have been named essential workers as the economy has had to shut down in many places because of health concerns. The U. S. Catholic Bishops have long advocated for better working conditions for farm laborers. Dorothy Day supported Cesar Chavez in his organizing of farm workers for better pay and better working conditions.

All of a sudden, this spring farm workers have been deemed essential to our food supply and have been asked to continue working. A large percentage of farm workers are undocumented.

It is even more ironic, or better put, very sad, that the large agribusinesses who are receiving many billions of dollars from the federal government during this crisis are asking to lower the wages of farm laborers. These wages should instead be raised because the work at close quarters does not allow for social distancing and the workers are very much at risk for becoming ill.

Slaughterhouses: How to Help

In meat-packing plants across the country with large COVID-19 outbreaks, the poor, many immigrants, are asked to work shoulder to shoulder without protection, chopping hogs and chickens at a very fast pace. The plants have been ordered to reopen. Some say we will have to choose between the welfare of workers and an abundance of meat.  We encourage our readers to follow LULAC’s campaign for meatless Mondays until the workers are given protection.

Why Target People for Deportation Now?

by Zoe Walker

Not long before news became readily available about the new virus, Casa Juan Diego welcomed a new baby. The young mother was overjoyed, but exhausted. Catholic Worker staff and volunteers quickly began to help, feeding the baby, changing diapers, so the mother could have some rest. The joy of new birth of this baby girl permeated our whole house of hospitality. The father of the baby is pursuing every avenue he can to try to be released from Immigration detention so that he can rejoin his family. (a very difficult proposition).

Another woman who is a guest of Casa Juan Diego has been waiting for the release of her husband for many months. We wrote letters of support for him in the hope that he could be released from detention to Casa Juan Diego. Sylvia (name changed to protect the innocent) had one child already living with her here. In the time of waiting, Sylvia  had her baby. Day after day, Sylvia has hoped for her husband’s release. She was devastated to find out that instead of the hoped-for release, he was deported in mid-April. Why? And why now?

Illness and Death in Immigration Prisons

When there was still time before a large spread of the virus in detention centers, advocates begged for release of immigrants detained in privatized prisons. Was it the virus of the soul that caused the decision makers not to act, but to hint that instead of the spread of the Coronavirus within the United States, it was the immigrant population coming to the border that was causing the danger?

And why were thousands of immigrants in detention in the first place, when there are other ways to monitor them without jailing them? The distressing reality of the lucrative private prison industry (on the stock market) and the prison corporations’ lobbyists seems even more cruel and unjust now. This must change. The United States cannot allow profit on human suffering.

Advocates for immigrants in detention have decried the conditions in detention centers from the beginning of awareness of the contagion of the Coronavirus. People are crowded together, they do not have the opportunity to wash their hands, let alone practice social distancing. And deportations continue.

Guatemala has reported that half of deportees from the United States have Coronavirus (Los Angeles Times). They are worried about the effects on their poor countries of cases deported from the U S.

What is all this desire to jail and deport people, to rid our countries of the poor, the stranger – the workers who build our houses, trim our trees, care for our lawns and our children, harvest and prepare our food? And more important than their contributions to our society, the immigrants are human beings with all the dignity that that implies.

Deported to Death

Some citizens might wonder why the protest against deportations. Aren’t people just being sent home? That is the argument presented by those who deport so many.

Observer from a distance might have forgotten the situation of violence or devastating poverty that impelled people to leave in the first place and deters people from returning. When they are returned, they suffer again. Deported migrants are targeted by the cartels, by corrupt groups that prey on migrants but especially on those who are deported.

Massive deportations create not only human misery, but death.  These cruel realities were documented long before the present crisis.

In addition, the countries who receive huge numbers of deportees are destabilized by the influx of homeless, penniless people. If our goal is to deter immigration, destabilizing the sending countries is not a good idea.

What Does It Mean? The Poor Will Always Be with You

In the light of these realities, we can turn for perspective to the prophetic words of the Holy Father from his homily on April 6.

Pope Francis asked at Mass that day for everyone to pray for the serious problem of overcrowded   prisons.

In his homily, he reflected on the Gospel reading (Jn 12:1-11) in which Mary – the sister of Lazarus and Martha – anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfumed oil.

The anointing of Jesus’ feet provoked an angry response from Judas who said the money should have been given to the poor. Jesus replied, “The poor will always be with you.”

Pope Francis said while Judas appeared to think of the poor, it was not because they mattered to him. What he cared about was money. He held the common purse and was a thief.

The Pope said there is always someone with these characteristics, pointing out that frequently less than half of the money given in charity for the poor goes to the poor. His comments were very interesting to those of us in the Catholic Worker movement, where there are no salaries.

“This story of the unfaithful administrator is always current: they are always around, even at a high level. We think of some charitable or humanitarian organizations that have many, many employees, with a structure full of people and only about 40% of donations make it to the poor because 60% goes to pay many salaries. This is a way of taking money from the poor.”

Matthew 25

Pope Francis expressed what has been hiding in plain sight, that many poor people are victims of structural injustice in today’s global economy, of economic and financial systems.

by L. V. Díaz

He reminded us that Jesus’ question to each of us on the Day of Judgment will be: “How did you treat the poor? Did you feed them? Did you visit those in prison, in hospital? Did you help the widow and the orphan? Because I was there.”

The Pope said we will be judged according to our relationship with the poor:

“If I ignore the poor today, leaving them aside and acting as if they didn’t exist, the Lord will ignore me on the Day of Judgment.

“When Jesus says, ‘You always have the poor with you,’ He is saying, ‘I will always be with you in the poor. I will be present there.’ And this is not acting like a communist. This is at the center of the Gospel: we will be judged on this.”

We pray that our Catholic antibodies will help us respond to Jesus in the poor and help us all to create a civilization of love – beyond pandemics.


Houston Catholic Worker, April-June 2020, Vol. XL, No. 2.