1. Have Trust in the Lord:
In every situation, Pallotti sought the will of God. Any difficult situation should not discourage us to doubt the goodness of God. That is why when Count Antonio Maria Plebani (who was staying in the region of Marche), wrote with a heavy heart about the safety of his son who was studying in Rome, Pallotti responded saying: “Let us seek God. Let us seek Him always and in all the things. And we will find Him and in Him we will all be saved.”
It was the time of the cholera epidemic. The suffering was visible for everyone to see. People - the saints and the ordinary, the churchmen and the lay people – died in large numbers. Pallotti’s close acquaintances – his father, his confessor, his friends, and associates - died during the epidemic. Pallotti did not lose heart or faith. He held himself like a strong tree with a firm foundation that fails to bow down to the strong wind of suffering.
The situation is not different today. There is suffering everywhere. The invisible virus seems to be all-powerful. People, even people we know, suffer and die. We especially remember our confrere Fr. Alberto Fernandez Merayo, SAC (Heart of Jesus Province) who died of the deadly Coronavirus on April 7th, 2020. Some of our members in Poland (Oltarzew) have tested positive for the virus. These incidents can shake the foundations of our faith. God seems to be silent or absent. Our prayers seem to fall on deaf ears.
It is the same for lay people. People look for God and they cannot seem to find Him! When they seek answers from us, the clergy, it is difficult to try and have answers for them. In spite of everything, it is very necessary that we, especially the priests and religious, stand as solid believers believing in the goodness of the Lord. In the time of Pallotti, there was the exemplary Pope Gregory XVI. Today we have Pope Francis doing the same. He sends out the message of a pastor who is truly concerned for the faithful and who continues to battle for them with his prayers. His actions have indeed strengthened the Catholic faithful all over the world.
A man of God standing firm in faith—even in the most difficult times—is the most powerful symbol. Pallotti was one such symbol for the people who sought his advice in the most difficult times of the cholera epidemic.
2. ‘Do your Duties’:
Our first necessary act is to be faithful and to stand firm in our beliefs. Faith alone does not suffice. “Faith without works is dead” writes the Apostle James (Jas 2:14-17). In a letter written to Giovanni Merchetti, a married lay person and a collaborator of Pallotti, we find the following advice: “it is better to attend to one’s proper duties [in the time of the epidemic].” Pallotti seems to be a believer in the battle cry: ‘Stop whining. Start working.’ Every person is supposed to do his or her duty in all situations, especially in the difficult times.
The fear of sickness can limit us with inaction. Life under lockdown can also eventually result in lethargy. However, we should not allow our spirit to be burdened. Life under lockdown amidst the sickness should not be an excuse. We are supposed to be doing our duties to the best of our ability with the limits in place. In this regard, some great examples in these times are medical doctors, selfless nurses, the numerous pharmacists, generous healthcare workers, the committed members of the staff in hospitals, the police force, the proprietors of various shops selling the necessary food, the unknown truck drivers, the service minded priests and the other Church personnel. They were acknowledged by our beloved Pope Francis when he delivered the extraordinary blessings ‘To the City and to the World’ (Urbi et Orbi) on March 27th, 2020.
The world will move on and there will be hope if everyone does his or her duty. Pallotti was very much aware of this simple but a significant fact. Because of Pallotti’s hope, one of his advices for the time of epidemic was ‘to do one’s duties.’
3. Acts of Mercy:
The next area in which Pallotti directed his actions in difficult times like the cholera epidemic was to be sensitive to the needs of his neighbors. To be charitable is good, and to be charitable in the time of epidemic is better. It is best when the beneficiary can in no way repay you. Pallotti was an exemplary figure in that sense. He engaged both in the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.
Spiritual Works of Mercy:
As the epidemic was ravaging Rome and wreaking havoc on the physical and spiritual lives of people, Pallotti wasted no opportunity to restore and strengthen the faith of the people. To the people who sought his counsel, he reassured them that God was still in control. It was praiseworthy that people sought the will of God in everything, including in the rough times of the epidemic. To the Apostolic Secretary in Vienna, who was very anxious for his life, Pallotti assured him that he would come out of the scourge untouched. Later, when he was proved right, Pallotti wrote to the secretary to ask for pardon and forgiveness from the Lord for the moments he was doubtful and weak in his faith. That was Pallotti’s way of counseling the doubtful and strengthening the feeble minded. The people who received the instructions of Pallotti were struck by the certainty with which he pronounced his teachings.
Pallotti was also on the forefront of praying for the suffering people. When the Church organized a novena in honor of Our Lady and when it decided on a barefoot procession with the icon of the Madonna Salus Populi Romani, Pallotti plunged himself completely into prayerful ministries. For instance, Pallotti organized a Triduum in the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans with a special intention to procure the necessary graces for the people infected with cholera. On another occasion, for the votive procession organized by the Church, Pallotti tried to get as many clergy as possible to participate in the procession. That was Pallotti’s service through prayer.
Pallotti also spent a lot of time in the confessional hearing the sins of the faithful, and he encouraged his fellow clergy to do the same. In the extraordinary time of the epidemic, Pallotti requested the ministerial faculties for reserved sins for his collaborators (Frs. Melia and Michettoni). That was the comforting ministry of Pallotti in the time of the epidemic.
Corporal Acts of Mercy:
Pallotti also had the foresight to know that the spread of the epidemic would cause many people to lose their jobs and cause financial stress on many families paying for necessities and medical expenses. This would eventually result in a great increase in the number of the poor. Pallotti had an innovative idea to help such people in need. He placed a small box in the Church of the Holy Spirit of the Neapolitans (where Pallotti was the Rector). It was a box in which people in need could drop a piece of paper with their names, surnames, the place of their residence, their parish and their particular pressing need. Later the members of the Union were sent two by two with the relief materials to the homes of the people in need. Even before the arrival of the epidemic in Rome, when cholera was already present in the port city of Naples, Pallotti had sent bread to the affected people there. Thus, we learn that Pallotti fed the hungry when they most needed food.
Besides carrying food for the needy, Pallotti and the members of the Union also attended to their other needs. They carried clothing to whoever lacked and asked for it (clothing the naked). They distributed lemons, which were thought to be a powerful medicine against the cholera outbreak, to the sickly. Pallotti asked his collaborators to assist the sick in their suffering. Additionally, Pallotti was seen on many occasions walking behind a hearse for the dead with his surplice and stole (burying the dead).
Today, we are called to emulate the example of St. Vincent Pallotti. If an act of charity is possible, it should be done. Everyone is called to respond to the call of charity. There is no excuse for anyone. If a person is old or sick in bed, he or she can certainly pray for all of suffering humanity and they can offer his or her suffering as mortification for the world’s sins. If a person is young and active, he or she should participate in as many of the works of mercy as possible. A priest can very well say votive masses for the end of the epidemic. A religious or lay associate can dedicate him or herself to pray for the sick and the suffering and for the medical professionals who fight the deadly virus.
The priests and religious are to stay with the flock -- if and when possible, they should be easily available to assist the sick and the dying. Fr. Giuseppe Berardelli (72), a priest from the Diocese of Bergamo, is a great example of Christian service and witness. He gave up his ventilator so that a young patient could recover. Many other priests and religious have served the sick and the dying and eventually fell victim to the virus. The Church and its dedicated personnel have been at the forefront caring for the needs of the people. If Pallotti were alive, he would be walking around in the hospital wards with the necessary protective equipment assisting the sick and the dying. He also would have encouraged the members of the Union to do the same.
If such action is not possible (owing to the nature of the disease and the lack of enough Personal Protective Equipment), the other acts of mercy (corporal acts of mercy) are very much feasible. There are hungry people and abandoned families around us. We need to have compassionate eyes to look at them and listen to their needs to then do what is possible. Some might need immediate nourishment; some might require medicine; some might ask for another form of help. We need to look around and recognize people’s needs and respond. Pallotti responded. As his followers, we need to walk the same path.
As a summation, I would say that if St. Vincent Pallotti were alive today, seeing the ravages of the current pandemic, his exhortation for his followers would have been something in the line of the following: “Do not worry. Pray and have trust in the Lord. Do your duties. And do not forget the acts of mercy.”
To learn more about St. Vincent Pallotti, please click here.
For more resources on the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.
Fr. Maria Dhanaraj Thivyarajan, S.A.C. is a member of the Our Lady of Good Health Province, Tamil Nadu (India). He has a Licentiate in Missiology in Pontifical Urban University, Vatican and is currently doing his doctoral studies in Missiology in JDV, Pune (India).