Pope Francis praised health care workers and criticized those who are protesting restrictions imposed by governments to stop the spread of COVID-19 in a New York Times op-ed. The piece is an adaptation from the pontiff’s new book but the timing raised more than a few eyebrows considering it was published less than a day after the Supreme Court struck down restrictions on religious services that had been put in place due to the pandemic.
In the piece, Francis recalls when he was seriously ill with pneumonia while he was a young man studying for the priesthood. “I have some sense of how people with COVID-19 feel as they struggle to breathe on a ventilator,” he said. As he has detailed before, Francis wrote about how he made it through thanks to nurses who understood his illness better than doctors and increased his dosage of antibiotics and painkillers. “They taught me what it is to use science but also to know when to go beyond it to meet particular needs,” he wrote. “And the serious illness I lived through taught me to depend on the goodness and wisdom of others.”
He went on to praise health care workers who are taking care of the sick during the pandemic, often at great personal cost because they understand “it is better to live a shorter life serving others than a longer one resisting that call.” Even as these “saints next door” receive praise from the population at large, there are others who have failed to take the threat of the virus seriously. Some governments have “shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths, with inevitable, grievous consequences.” And other governments that have acted decisively have received pushback. “Some groups 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!”
Even though the coronavirus “may seems special because it affects most of humankind” there are “a thousand other crises that are just as dire” but we can pretend they don’t exist because they don’t affect us so directly. Among these “unseen viruses” are climate change, the refugee crisis, hunger and wars. “To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination,” Francis wrote. “The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone.”