As we enter the sixth week of our engagement with an unwanted, uninvited and dreaded guest ‘pathogen’ (COVID-19), we are beginning to come to terms with its impact. Especially on those who are fighting it on the front-line, the NHS workers.
More than 144 front-line workers are believed to have died of corona virus since 25th March. And as we moved to the seventh week, the number of cases does not bring any comfort. The Guardian reports that at least 29 of the deaths of people working in the health sector were from the Philippines or with Filipino heritage (Ben Quinn, The Guardian, 17th April 2020). For me, as a priest of Filipino heritage, there is a pervasive gloom whenever reports surface that a health worker has succumbed to COVID-19. I am aware that majority of my Filipino parishioners work in the health services. Just lately, I knew of three who contracted the virus; but happily, after battling it at home for three weeks, they have now recovered.
But what about those health workers who have lost the battle to COVID-19? In the news report, I looked at every photograph and every short resume, and they shall forever ingrained in my consciousness whenever this phase in our lives is revisited. We, as a nation, applaud these people every Thursday at 8:00pm, to show our gratitude for their heroism. Some people in the social media have viewed their deaths as a great privilege, a great fortune – to have fallen in the line of duty as heroes.
But I view their deaths as a misfortune- a tragedy of unimaginable proportions –for them and their families. It is a tragedy for their loved ones who cannot touch or even view them in their dying hours to say goodbye, and for the extended families in the Philippines, nephews and nieces who will probably discontinue their education because the financial support from their relative who died will now be ended. I view it as an indictment of how vulnerable we are in the face of an unseen enemy.
So every Thursday at 7:00pm, as a Bishop celebrates Mass especially for our health workers and as we clap our hands for them as a nation, I constantly remind myself, I do not want them as heroes. I want them alive, returning to the warm embrace of their loved ones, enjoying the simple pleasures of life, breaking bread with each other, and hopefully very soon. I view life as sacred and inviolable. While I have the utmost respect, admiration and eternal gratitude for all those who have sacrificed their lives against this viral menace, I pray that no one else joins the roster. Let no one be part of the statistics anymore. Fr. Gideon Wagay