This may be the last thing anyone expected to see in The New York Times on Monday, but here it is: a beautiful and inspiring glimpse at one man doing the Lord’s work:
When the Rev. Eduardo Vasquez dresses for work these days, his vestments are as protective as they are holy. His cassock has been replaced by a safety suit, his collar hidden behind an N-95 respirator mask. All that identifies him as a priest is his stole, a scarf about two meters long, the perfect length to measure an acceptable social distance.
After Manila, the Philippine capital, was placed under lockdown in March, Father Vasquez moved his daily Mass online. That kept him safe from the coronavirus but left some of his poorest parishioners — the ones without cellphones — beyond his reach.
So he set off to find them. In the metro area’s teeming slums, already reeling from President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody antidrug campaign, he celebrated Mass, served the Eucharist, and distributed food and face masks.
“Journalists, doctors, garbage collectors and undertakers were out doing their duties” during the lockdown, he said in Caloocan city, where he works. “It’s a big knock on the Catholic Church if we don’t.”
The Philippines has nearly 1,200 deaths from Covid-19 and more than 30,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, one of Southeast Asia’s highest tallies.
As the caseload rose this spring in Manila, a metro area of nearly 14 million people, Father Vasquez and fellow church volunteers began providing meals, face masks and other assistance to about 300 homeless people a night in Caloocan, a city in the area’s north. They refer anyone who exhibits Covid-19 symptoms to hospitals.
On many days, Father Vasquez, 47, tends to his churchyard garden, baptizes children, and attends to the dead at funeral parlors and crematories. On one occasion, he traveled to a village outside Manila, where residents had asked him to bless it as a protection from the virus.
After each trip, he disinfects his personal protective equipment so it can be reused.
“Wearing P.P.E. conveys that there is danger, that you should be careful,” he said. “At the same time, it also sends the message that ‘Even if it’s dangerous, I am here for you, but I will never compromise your safety.’”
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