In The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey has interviewed Francis Collins, NIH director, about the challenges of getting people of faith to respond to the COVID-19 crisis:

What do you think faith leaders could be doing from a public-health perspective right now?

There’s a natural instinct for people of faith who are loving and wish to give themselves to others who are hurting to rush in the direction of people who are vulnerable or who are suffering. And over the course of many centuries, people of faith have, to their great credit, put themselves in harm’s way.

Right now, they could focus their efforts on trying to supply, nurture and support all of their flock who are struggling right now. This is stressful. This may lead to people having fears, anxiety and other mental-health issues. Pastors ought to be doing everything they can to maintain that connection but not put people at risk.

This concept of social distancing is kind of an unfortunate term. If anything, we need more social connections. We all ought to be invested in that in remarkably consistent outreach, in order to try to be sure that people don’t end up with a sense of fear, anxiety and isolation. Pastors are in a great place to try to nurture and support people through all kinds of creative ideas, and many are doing so.

If someone is sick or dying, should a faith leader be willing to do last rites or provide Communion, or would you say “absolutely not”?

It ought to be done by somebody who’s completely familiar with the risks involved. The person of faith would need to be appropriately garbed in protective equipment with a gown, gloves, masks, in order to reduce the risk greatly of themselves acquiring the illness.

Many hospitals identify people who are well-trained who can minister to those who are dying without expecting that the pastor of the church a couple of miles away, who has never really had that experience, to be able to do so.

Check out the whole interview. 

Living and working in New York City gives me a disturbingly close — even depressing — vantage point on all of this.

I live in Queens, about two miles from a hospital where they have set up refrigerated trucks to hold the bodies of COVID-19 victims. They have erected tents outside to serve as makeshift morgues, because there isn’t enough room in the hospitals. Nurses, doctors and health care workers are laboring around the clock, often with limited resources (if they have any resources at all).

What this means for me: I know one woman personally who has died from COVID-19-related illness. Offhand, I can think of a half a dozen others in my circle — friends of friends, or relatives of friends and coworkers — who have died from it. That includes two deacons and a priest. I also know several others who are ill, including a deacon in New Jersey and a woman in my parish.

This virus is a monster. Pure and simple. I’ve never known anything like this. This thing strikes indiscriminately. And it is cutting a very deep and deadly swath through New York City at this moment.

Know this: at the risk of stating the obvious, you may have it and no have symptoms. You can spread it to others. Others may have it and not know it and spread it to you. Stay indoors and at home as much as you are able.

It’s that simple.

The only substantial contact I’m having with those outside my apartment right now is with the priests in my parish. I walked a few blocks to the church last weekend to record Mass; I’ll be doing it again this weekend. My wife makes regular visits to the elderly woman who lives next door to us, who is homebound; my wife picks up her mail and runs errands for her. I go to Walgreen’s now and then to pick up toothpaste or dental floss, and my wife heads to the local Key Food, but all the stores strictly monitor “social distance” and the number of people they admit to the store. Everyone is wearing gloves and masks.

We live in very difficult and stressful times. I find myself sometimes thinking of Padre Pio’s famous quote: “Pray, hope and don’t worry.” At this moment, that seems to be the best advice of all.

I’m trying to get better at following that advice. It’s not easy.

Let’s continue to pray for one another.