I was so happy to read the news that many people in Malta managed to get together on Tuesday evening, of March 17 2020, in order to give a round applause as a manifestation of their heartfelt support as well as appreciation for those who are bravely risking their lives for us to protect us in this coronavirus trial!
It is not important if there were those who chose to play, with that utmost loving respect as honoured citizens should cultivate, our unique national anthem. Let us remember that when we sing it we are actually praying directly to God since it is a fervent prayer to the Lord to guard our beloved country as He has always done. Or others who just preferred banging pots, sounding horns or simply joined the flock in clapping. It was news to notice that places like Sliema, Gżira, St Julians, Birkirkara and other localities, chose to pay their tribute to the professionals and workers in the medical sector, accompanied, of course, by the members of the disciplined corps who are giving their lives to assist those who are suffering from the evil of coronavirus. How emotional it was that this applause was even extended into the digital world, namely the social media! How many Facebook users showed their support for the doctors, nurses and paramedics! It was so beautiful that these people received a merited nationwide applause!
But today I want to mention other types of workers, whose work is unique because it is so hard to do it unless you are specifically called and anointed by God Himself through His Church to carry it out. I am referring to the sterling work my Capuchin confreres are doing at the hospitals and old people’s homes. Together with a few members of the diocesan clergy the Capuchins are doing an indispensible work among the sick in our hospitals. Even at the risk of losing their very lives.
Our life with the sick is not something that came yesterday or has fallen from the sky. In fact, when the Capuchin Constituitions expressly talk about our charism of serving Christ in the sick, at the hospitals, they clearly state: After the example of Saint Francis, who had great compassion for the poor, and the founders of our Capuchin brotherhood, who helped those suffering from the plague, let us live alongside our brothers and sisters in need, especially the sick, eager to offer them wholehearted service as brothers (Const. 108.3). Again, in Constitution 149 we find this powerful exhortation: Let us promote the customary works of the apostolate such as popular missions, retreats, the sacramental confession of the faithful, the spiritual care of religious women, especially Franciscans, care of the sick and of prisoners, works of education and of social development (Const.149.2). In Constitution 153.1 we also find: After the example of Saint Francis and the enduring tradition of the order, we willingly undertake the spiritual, and even bodily, care of the sick and infirm.
But we Capuchins serve Christ in the sick because, first and foremost, we follow what St Paul wisely writes in his First Letter to Timothy when he encourages him: If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8). Fully convinced that charity begins at home the Capuchin Constitutions explain the fact that the first care and solicitude for the sick has to be offered within the fraternity. To begin with, states Constitution 92.2: Let each brother, reflecting that the person of the suffering Christ is present in the sick, consider what he would wish to be done for him in case of sickness. Let him recall what Saint Francis wrote in the Rule: “no mother is as tender and caring toward her son, as each one of us should be toward our spiritual brother.” Hence, Constitution 92 not only encourages that each brother is to commit himself to take care of a sick brother, to visit him willingly, and to comfort him as a brother (Const. 92.3) but also it puts a heavy responsibility on the ministers shoulders to provide a holistic care, most of all the spiritual one, to the brothers who are ill. Let the minister and guardian frequently and fraternally visit the sick brothers and not neglect to provide for their spiritual care, either personally or through another. If they see that the brother is seriously ill, let them prudently inform him of his condition and prepare him to receive the sacraments (Const. 92.4). Such a solicitude should be motivated both by Gospel and St Francis’ witness. As a matter of fact, Constitution 112.3 reminds us: However, the ministers and guardians, since they have to provide what is necessary, especially for the sick, shall keep in mind the commandment of love and the example of Saint Francis.
History amply shows that it is in our Franciscan Capuchin DNA to be with the sick and give our lives to Jesus Christ and His Church precisely by serving them in our hospitals. The Capuchin presence with the lepers in 1576-1577 was instrumental in the help they gave to the great saint of Milan in Lombardy, Archbishop and later Cardinal St Charles Borromeo, when they took over into their care the hospitals for the lepers where the ill were consigned as the rich and the powerful fled the city. This not to mention the heroic past of the Maltese Capuchins who, some of them, even died because they assisted the patients who suffered from cholera, the plague and tuberculosis.
By these reflections I have nothing to boast about. I am sure that there are other people within the medical sector that work for long hours. But, our Capuchin friars, some of them vulnerable due to their age and state of health, have never shirked from their Capuchin responsibility to keep carrying on this silent, golden and life-giving tradition of caring for Christ in the sick. To them I want to give my warm applause. I am pretty sure that I am not alone in doing this. But even if I were I would undoubtedly do it from the bottom of my heart! And, I do it, because I firmly believe that each and every friar deserves it! Only God knows the immense spiritual good that is quitely done when that brother, dressed in chestnut coloured habit, with a cord around his waist, wearing sandals for shoes, and sometimes wearing a beard or having a clean shaved face (see Const. 35.2), goes through the wards, corridors, foyers and cafaterias of the hospitals were the Capuchins are present.
When Pope Francis encouraged priests to visit, accompany and assist those who are afflicted with the coronavirus a smile came on my lips. Dear Pope Francis, as you surely know, we Capuchins have been doing this much-needed work for almost five hundred years! And, don’t worry, by God’s grace we keep doing it till the last Capuchin shall be living on this world, including our beloved islands! Because this is our life! This is our real and original contribution to the Archdiocese of Malta, the hospital chaplaincy!
To these silent Capuchin heros I say, from the highest rooftop that exits or from the remotest milieu of the world, THANK YOU MY DEAR BROTHERS! You too merit a heartfelt applause during this coronavirus pandemic! You too merit our love, respect, collaboration, appreciation and help! Keep it up brothers! As to myself, in my human limitations, I shall keep joyfully giving my bit till I close my eyes for this world. Your Christlike faithfulness just fills me with the Holy Spirit’s energy to go on and on, serving Christ in the sick, especially and most of all, during this difficult time of the coronavirus pandemic!
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap