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COVID-19: A priest facing the suffering of his flock

In addition to news about deaths from the coronavirus, headlines about the huge increase in suicide rates are frequent. In a scenario of social isolation, economic crisis and so many other sources of anxiety and anguish, this tragic news is not surprising.

Those who are Catholic and suffering are often looking for hope in the support and wisdom of their pastor, or some friendly priest. But sometimes the situation is so critical, that even the priest is perplexed, seeing his limit for treating the wounds of his sheep.

This is the painful testimony, but full of love, of our friend Fr. Lício de Araújo Vale. Parish priest of the Church of the Holy Family, in the diocese of São Miguel Paulista (SP), he has mourned the death of several parishioners affected by Covid-19, and also seeks to console so many others who lost friends and loved ones.

His testimony reminds me of Pope Francis‘ wise comment:

“When someone has an answer to all the questions, he shows that he is not on the right path and it is possible that he is a false prophet, who uses religion for his benefit, in the service of his own psychological and mental discoveries. God infinitely overcomes us, it is always a surprise and we are not the ones who determine the historical circumstance in which we find it, since the time, the place, and the way of the meeting do not depend on us. Whoever wants everything clear and secure intends to dominate the transcendence of God. “

 

WHEN EVERYTHING SEEMS WITHOUT MEANING

By: Fr. Lício de Araújo Vale

 

These days, I followed someone up pastorally through WhatsApp. I confess: I had difficulties in supporting her in her search for meaning.

Nothing seemed to make sense; there was no prospect. Sometimes, there is so much suffering that I don’t know if I could bear it. That person lost her father, mother and two children to Covid-19. Now, she has only one son left.

She told me: “If something happens to this son, I don’t see any sense in my life anymore. Then, I will die too. ”

I understand this woman. I didn’t judge her, but I tried to strengthen her, saying, “Yes, this is unbearable. But if you don’t give up, it can be a sign of hope for other people. And you should ask your deceased children, ‘What do you want me to do? Should I kill myself or fight and live for you? Should I keep your memory alive in this world? ”.

Sometimes we cannot understand the suffering of certain people, and often, I also cannot recognize a meaning in that. I feel and stand before my impotence.

Certain suffering can lead to despair. But the feeling of meaninglessness can also be caused by illusory notions of life: the person’s wishes have not been fulfilled; did not find a partner; always face problems at work; they do not feel emotionally and physically healthy. These frustrations can even lead to suicide.

In these cases, I try to question their expectations regarding existence. I help them build new images for life, images that motivate and sustain them.

Often, I crash again with my impotence; I cannot convince a person about the meaning of life if he is not open to recognizing his existence; if he prefers to whine and blame others. In such cases, I need to accept my limits.

It is difficult, but when the other decides to take his life because of the meaninglessness he feels, I need to accept it. I can pray for him and trust that God’s mercy will reach him, because God’s love is greater than his act, and that God’s love will purify all guilt and despair. It was like that with my father, it should be like that with all those who die by suicide.

*****

At thirteen, Father Lício lost his father, who died by suicide. He is the author of the three books about this theme in Brazil. You can find them HERE (in portuguese).

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