Every December, the editors of Merriam-Webster dictionaries announce the Word of the Year, which they feel captures something essential about the previous 11 months. For 2020 – no surprise – the word was pandemic.
Another word that we heard a lot last year was unprecedented. Again and again, it was used to describe the Covid-19 crisis. To a lot of us, the term seemed apt.
In a historic sense, though, the pandemic of 2020-21 is not so new. In medieval times, the Black Death killed millions. In 1918, influenza killed 675,000 in our country. And AIDS/HIV, though it spreads less swiftly, has killed more than 700,000 Americans since 1980 – and there’s still no vaccine.
This doesn’t make what we’re going through now any less horrific or tragic. But it might help put it into perspective.
Perhaps the coronavirus crisis seems unprecedented because it came in an era when many were convinced humans had conquered the world. These days, we can travel the globe at amazing speeds – but it turns out we still can’t outrun the virus. In our phones, we seemed to hold the world in our hands. It made us feel all-powerful – until suddenly the data reminded us how terrifyingly vulnerable we are.
We don’t hold the world in the palm of our hand. God does. We do well to remember that, and to humbly pray for His help. There’s certainly precedent for that.
Something else that’s not new is God’s mercy. Since the earliest days of Christianity, as Fr. Michael Bruno points out in this edition of Archways, dutiful Christians have made extraordinary sacrifices to carry out the mission of Jesus to care for the sick and the poor in times of pestilence. Priests, sisters, brothers and lay Catholics have risked their lives to bring physical and spiritual healing to the afflicted.
And they’re still doing it. If you missed “Heroes of New York” in the previous Archways, it’s worth going back to for its uplifting portraits of Christian service in the face of peril and hardship. That story continues in “A Time to [Re]Build,” the cover story of this Winter 2021 issue, in which archdiocesan pastors, educators and ministry leaders sum up what we learned in 2020 – and point the way forward into 2021 and beyond.
Elsewhere in this edition, “Measures of Hope” explores how the music ministries of the archdiocese are helping to raise us up during a challenging time. In “Issue: Racial Justice,” our regular interview column presents the views of three Black Catholic leaders to guide us toward a path of social healing. And “A Time to Embrace” lets a few of our leaders sound off about how they’ll mark that hoped-for day when the pandemic all-clear sounds. You’ll also find a link to prayer suggestions from some of our contemplative nuns on the Archways blog.
As we prepare to publish this issue of Archways, we are facing wonderful news and terrible news. On the one hand, through the grace of God and the blessings of science and technology, coronavirus vaccines have been tested, approved and rolled out. On the other, the vaccines will take months to administer widely, during which time the virus is expected to sicken and kill many new victims.
So we stay safe and protect our loved ones; we pray for the sick, the grieving, the at-risk; and we look forward humbly and hopefully to the day when we no longer need to put on a mask to enter church or keep our distance in the pews, a day when we can sing together joyously – and mourn together, too, for all our lost sisters and brothers whom we may not have had the chance to send off properly.
May they rest in the peace of the Lord, and may we honor their memory by reflecting the light of Christ throughout the archdiocese and the world.
Faithfully in Christ,
Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan
Archbishop of New York