Yes, you are your brother’s keeper
by Grace Maffucci ’22
Thousands of years ago, according to the Old Testament, Cain, in an attempt to escape responsibility for his brother’s death, asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Essentially, God said “yes,” and since then Christians have used this ancient story to remind us of our God-given responsibility to care for and promote the welfare of others and the sanctity of human life.
I think about that lesson a lot these days, amid the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic, as I walk into St. Dominic’s Chapel and notice a sea of praying Catholics — and not a mask in sight.
Despite repeated reminders in the form of door signs, emails from Fr. Sicard, Dean Sears and the Continuity Task Force to wear masks inside all buildings, and despite evidence that wearing masks reduces the rate of transmission of COVID-19 in a community, many members of the PC community are often seen without a mask (or in improperly worn clothing).
We are in a much different situation now than we were a year ago when vaccines were just beginning to be rolled out, and for most of us the risk of serious illness and/or hospitalization due to COVID-19 is much lower. While that’s reason enough to be grateful and breathe a little easier (literally and figuratively), it doesn’t mean we’re off the hook in terms of preventing the spread of COVID-19. The Omicron variant has been shown to be highly contagious, even among vaccinees; as of Jan. 31, there were 906.7 new cases per 100,000 people in the previous seven days, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health, which also rates Rhode Island’s rate of community transmission of the virus as high..
At Providence College, as of January 28, 83 cases of COVID-19 have been reported among students, faculty, and staff since the start of the spring semester. And although 97% of students, faculty and full-time staff are vaccinated, there are still several members of the PC community as well as the greater Providence community who are unvaccinated, immunocompromised or elderly, and are therefore more vulnerable. to COVID-19.
That should be reason enough for members of the college community to take mask-wearing seriously. Just because you’re vaccinated doesn’t mean you can’t catch the virus and potentially pass it on to someone who is at greater risk of serious illness.
But my intention is not to condemn the whole campus for relaxing the wearing of masks, because for many students it is a school rule. However, for devout Catholics, wearing masks in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, a disease that has killed at least 873,957 people in the United States alone, according to the CDC, should be more than a rule, it is a necessary means of living out Christ’s command to love one another as ourselves. Jesus himself said, “There is no greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Wearing a mask doesn’t even come close to giving your life – it’s just a small inconvenience – but we are called to do it to protect the most vulnerable, the weak, those who have no voice, terms that should sound familiar to pro-life Catholics. If pro-lifers claim to be willing to go to great lengths to defend and protect life at all stages and in all forms, why is it so difficult to wear a mask to protect the lives of community members who surrounds us?
I understand the frustration of having to mask up for the sake of others while being fully vaccinated, but even those who vehemently oppose vaccinations (and they exist – perhaps even abound – within our Church) deserve the sacrificial love to which Christ calls us. I wish I didn’t have to wear a mask to protect people who refuse to protect themselves, but I know that as a Christian I am called to put the health and safety of others before my little comforts.
What is truly troubling is not just the lack of mask-wearing in the devout Catholic community on campus, but the absolute refusal of active members of campus ministry to wear a mask even when required during a school event, in a classroom or at Mass. Refusing to mask has become a great political statement in defense of personal freedom, but when that act of freedom comes at the expense of the health and safety of others, it no longer aligns with the Catholic notion of freedom. Jesus did not die on the cross for our individual freedom to outweigh the well-being of others. Rather, Christ’s ultimate sacrifice of love should remind us that wearing a mask is only a fraction of the suffering to which we are called if we are to walk with Christ and follow his example.
Regardless of any objection to the foregoing argument, all members of the campus Catholic community should be alarmed that the lack of proper masking in St. Dominic’s Chapel and the campus ministry center has turned some loyal students away from to attend Mass and get involved in the ministry. on the campus. For these people, who are rightly worried about the high rate of community transmission and how it could affect themselves and their loved ones, the chapel is no longer a safe space to pray and commune with others. I don’t mean to say that we are responsible for people who abandon the faith because of the mask debate (just like with the sex abuse scandals that plagued the Catholic Church), because as a practicing Catholic, I know that there are inviolable truths on which the faith is founded, and corruption within the Church cannot change these truths. However, the fact that this issue is causing division within church communities (and not just at CP!) is concerning and needs to be addressed.
Remember, whether you like it or not, if you are a believer in the Word of God and a follower of Christ, you are your brother’s keeper.