Dominican Br. Chris Gault, who trained as a doctor, is treating patients with COVID-19 in Belfast. CNS photo/Mal McCann, courtesy Irish Catholic

Acts of kindness and courage

  • June 27, 2020

The suffering caused by COVID-19 has been met by an outpouring of caring and compassion from communities and Catholic organizations worldwide.

From nurses and doctors, priests and nuns, educators and students, artists and entrepreneurs — acts of kindness, courage and creativity have abounded since lockdowns around the globe began in March. Here are just a few of those stories.

In Ireland, an Irish Dominican brother, who had trained as a doctor, put his studies for the priesthood on hold to return to his native Belfast, where he donned surgical scrubs.

Br. Chris Gault completed foundation training as a doctor in 2013 but he left medical life to answer a call to enter the priesthood. However, when he heard calls for any available medics to return to the frontline to help in the fight against the coronavirus, he decided he had to help.

“I talked to my superiors and they were happy and encouraging,” he said.

“I just volunteered. I never wavered and once the backing came, I was happy to go for it,” he said.

He said his role is to support the better-trained medical professionals, the “true heroes.”

He said if he had to give people a message, “it would be one of hope.”

In Mexico City, Jesuit Fr. Raul Vazquez feared the pandemic would cause isolation and despair. So he recruited delegates in poor neighbourhoods. He organized a census to identify needs and formed volunteer committees to set up food banks and other essential services.

Unable to knock on doors, he promoted the programs by loudspeakers in the streets.

Soon people with other skills stepped forward. Ernestina Lopez, an alternative medicine practitioner, offered her services. Even the local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter stepped up.

“They’re used to listening and we need people who will listen,” Vazquez said. “People are listening to each other.”

In Warsaw, Poland, priests, sisters and even bishops answered a nation-wide call from rap artists to compose 16-line rap songs to raise money for medical staff coping with the coronavirus.

“When it comes to music, we don’t always keep up with the latest stuff, but we’re ready to try new things when the call comes,” explained Sr. Emanuela Gemza of the Mother of Divine Mercy Order.

“I immediately realized this was a great chance to evangelize — to show in an untypical way how God cares for us. I think the Holy Spirit guided us in putting the words and melody together.”

Although the challenge received entries from two bishops, Poland’s rapping nuns gained most attention, with a catchy mix of religious messages and confident performance skills.

Sr. Wanda Putyra said she and her sisters were egged on by students at the school where they teach. They got some coaching in rap techniques, but did not find it easy.

“As a church organist, specializing in Bach, I don’t usually do this type of music — and we were worried about getting the rhythm right,” Wanda told Catholic News Service. “Having assumed rap was pretty simple, I quickly discovered it’s actually really difficult.

“It truly is an art form, and we all now respect the artists who do it.”

The rap challenge grossed about $1.5 million.

In Chicago, when word came that Illinois residents were being asked to stay home and the Archdiocese of Chicago suspended public Masses, Chicago-based iconographer Joseph Malham used the time artistically. He created a 3-by-4-foot icon of Christ the Healer.

The icon was intended to comfort not just those who are ill or who have loved ones who are ill or have died. It’s also for all those suffering financially or emotionally, those isolated from friends and family members and those who put their own health at risk to care for those who are sick, Malham said.

“Like the rest of the world, I thought, I can sit around listening to my own fears and anxieties and uncertainties or I can do something creative,” said Malham.

Unable to obtain materials during the lockdown, everything in the icon comes from supplies he had on hand — a piece of oak, white paint instead of gesso, gold paint in place of gold leaf.

“I think it’s the most genuine icon I’ve ever done,” Malham said.

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