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Coronavirus, St. Jacinta And St. John Bosco

February 19, 2020 Featured Today No Comments

By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY

By one of those curious coincidences, the current threat from the Chinese coronavirus has come to prominence just as we celebrate the centenary of the death of St. Jacinta of Fatima, a death which can be attributed to complications arising from the Spanish flu pandemic which afflicted the world between January 1918 and December 1920. It is thought that this disease infected up to 500 million people worldwide and led to between 50 and 100 million deaths.
St. Jacinta was the perfect example of how to behave in the face of death at a young age. Our Lady had told her that she would have to go to two hospitals but not be cured; rather she would suffer more for the love of God, for the conversion of sinners, and to make up for the sins against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
After enduring constant pain, and an operation to remove two diseased ribs with only a local anesthetic, Jacinta finally died on February 20, 1920. In this, the young saint left us a wonderful example of the importance of conformity with God’s will, in that she was willing to accept the particular death that He willed for her regardless of how lonely and painful it might be.
The onset of the coronavirus, in contrast, while possibly dangerous, is not necessarily deadly, although there have been thousands of confirmed cases of it during the current outbreak, and hundreds of people have in fact died. Those who contract it suffer from a severe respiratory infection and have symptoms which include fever and a dry cough.
The disease is spreading rapidly, but at present, it is not possible to tell if it will become a worldwide phenomenon like the Spanish flu. But given the interconnectedness of the modern world, there is certainly the potential for that to happen.
We must hope and sincerely pray that this is not the case, but the possibility does prompt the question, What can we do about it if it does get more serious, not only in a practical way but also through spiritual means?
As regards practical matters, it is obviously sensible to follow the latest medical advice, and take prudent precautions to avoid exposure to the virus — where that is possible.
But we can also combat threatening diseases in a spiritual sense, as was the case with St. John Bosco in the nineteenth century.
This incredible saint, whose Oratory and other works were based in Turin in northern Italy, was the founder of the Salesians, an order devoted to the education of the young. He was one of the towering spiritual figures of his era, and both a miracle worker and a trusted confidant of Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII. He was particularly noted for his deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin, under the title “Mary Help of Christians.”
Before the advent of modern medicine, cholera was a particularly dangerous and quite often deadly condition, and the saint had in fact prophetically told his boys, in May 1854, that Turin would be a hit by an outbreak of the disease; but he comforted them by saying that if they did as he said they would be safe. The advice he gave them was simple but ultimately very effective: that is, avoid sin, wear a blessed medal of the Blessed Virgin, and have recourse to prayer.
Just as he had predicted, cholera broke out in Italy in July 1854. The disheartening symptoms and results of this disease soon became evident, that is, vomiting and abdominal pains, diarrhea, muscle cramps and most frightening of all, a very high death rate of up to sixty percent.
As soon as Turin began to be affected by the disease, Don Bosco adopted precautionary measures including having the whole house cleaned and reducing the number of beds in each room. But he went further than this, and kneeling before the altar, offered his life if necessary, if his pupils could be spared this scourge.
The authorities set up makeshift hospitals, the lazarettos, in an attempt to deal with the disease, but found it very difficult to staff them, such was the general fear of cholera.
On the evening of Saturday, August 5, the feast of Our Lady of the Snows, he spoke to his pupils, emphasizing the power of our Lady in combating the disease, whether it was due to natural contagion or was a pestilence sent by God to punish the people for their sins. He also spoke of how she was an immensely powerful advocate, the Mother of Mercy, who alone could help them.
Above all, he told his boys that the best protection was to make a good Confession and then receive Holy Communion worthily, and he went on to say that if they put themselves in a state of grace, and did not commit mortal sin, he promised that not one of them would be stricken by the disease. This promise had a tremendous impact and the behavior of the boys became exemplary.

Tireless Devotion

Then Don Bosco and his priests became involved in caring for the victims of the disease locally, and he decided to ask even more of his pupils. He spoke to them in moving terms of the state of wretchedness to which many cholera victims were reduced, and how some of them had died because there was no one to care for them. He explained how charitable it was to engage in such work, even at personal risk, and finished by asking for volunteers from amongst them to help in this work of mercy. The result was that over forty of his boys volunteered their services.
They were quickly instructed as to their duties, and, putting themselves under the care of divine Providence, set to work in the most demanding conditions imaginable. They were divided up into four groups and given the fourfold task of helping in the lazarettos; helping victims in their homes; searching out people who had been abandoned by their relatives, and a final group was on call at the Oratory, waiting day and night to hear where they would be needed next.
Don Bosco was a great example to all of them with his tireless devotion to the sick and dying, but still the boys had to overcome a great repugnance in dealing with the victims of the outbreak, who would often be contorted with pain and dreadful convulsions, and foaming at the mouth.
This went on for over two months and left the boys completely exhausted, but finally, the worst of the cholera outbreak was over, and just as Don Bosco had promised, not one of the boys had caught the disease.
The lesson for us then from the outbreak of cholera in Turin in 1854 is surely that the best antidote to the coronavirus, or to any other similar threat to health, is to remain in a state of grace, to pray with fervor, and in particular to have a real devotion to the Blessed Virgin — expressed practically in the wearing of a blessed medal dedicated to her, such as the miraculous medal.

+ + +

(Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and maintains a related website at www.theotokos.org.uk. He has also written two time-travel/adventure books for young people, and the third in the series is due to be published later this year — details can be seen at: http://glaston-chronicles.co.uk.)

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