Solemnity of Our Lady, Patron of the Hospitaller Order
Circular Letter of the Prior General
My dear Brothers, Co-workers and members of the Hospitaller Family of Saint John of God,
We are approaching the third Saturday of November, the Solemnity of the Patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary over our Order, the Queen of Hospitality and Patron of the St. John of God Family. This year it will be the 21st and I am writing to you all to send you my cordial best wishes as you prepare for celebrating it with devotion and joy. This painting shows our House in Manila, painted by Rafael del Casal in 1989.
Everything this year is being viewed in terms of the coronavirus pandemic that is affecting the whole world, which therefore includes our Order, varying in intensity and depending on the seasons. Almost 50 million people have now been infected and, very sadly, some 1.3 million people have died. At the moment, while the contagion and deaths appear to be beginning to decline a little in some places, such as in some Latin American and Asian countries, other countries are well into what they have called the ‘second wave’ of contagion which has increased and is once again causing health, economic and social damage. This is particularly the case all over Europe. On the African continent, although the situation is less severe, great vigilance is still necessary because infections and deaths are also occurring.
As far as the Order is concerned, the impact of the pandemic varies according to the situation in each continent and country. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 82 Brothers (including 6 aspirants) have been infected and 7 have died from Covid-19. Currently we have 9 infected Brothers, but all of them are well at the moment. The numbers of infected Co-workers have fallen, but with the arrival of the second wave, infection and isolation are now on the rise again, which is causing serious personnel problems in many of our Centres. But fortunately, the number of deaths has not risen, and still stands at three in the first few months of the pandemic.
Patients with coronavirus are being taken in and cared for by many of our Centres in increasing numbers, especially in Europe, although all the Order's centres and facilities and services worldwide are very vigilant in checking possible infected patients, isolating them and treating them appropriately.
Health, economic and social difficulties continue to grow, as well as issues affecting the mental health, ethics and the spiritual and religious life of individuals and society at large. Until there is a safe and effective vaccine, we cannot clearly envisage how the pandemic is likely to end, and fresh waves of infection are only worsening these and other problems.
One problem that I consider very important is the loneliness from which many people are suffering at this time, especially the sick who are enduring sickness, and even dying, without being surrounded by their loved ones and friends. Then there are the people living alone, the homeless, and the elderly suffering from loneliness, with the fear and uncertainty about having been forgotten all about. All of them need a Samaritan hand, full of hospitality, making them sense the human warmth and love that springs from the heart. Brothers and Co-workers, let’s not forget the lonely people who are living in our own Centres! Like St. John of God, let us see in them the presence of God Himself, the God who loves us all and never abandons anyone. And let’s not forget our sick and elderly Brothers who at this time are suffering especially of loneliness, anxiety and uncertainty. I urge all of you, especially the Brothers, to stay by their side and to help them through this difficult situation. Let’s not forget hospitality for all those who are suffering from loneliness!
In these circumstances we are being called to celebrate this year’s Solemnity of Our Mother and Patron. She, ever-Virgin, was the Mother who accompanied, loved and constantly sustained St. John of God throughout his life, even in moments of sickness and as he was dying. She has always been, and continues to be, there to accompany and oversee the Order's mission of hospitality. Through her silence, she teaches us to discover the presence of her Son in us and in our most needy brothers and sisters. Our Brothers have had so many wonderful experiences of Our Mother of the Patronage throughout our history and still at the present time!
Throughout this pandemic, Our Mother, the Virgin of the Patronage, is urging us put into practice two titles that the universal Church uses to call on her, and which are so very necessary today. Firstly, Hope: Mother of Hope! Confronted by fear, uncertainty, loneliness, and so many other difficulties, she is calling out to us to Hope, to raise our eyes to God, to be bold and daring, to have faith, and to trust fully in her Son, who alone can turn water into wine, that is, turn each and every sign of death that may come our way into life.
Secondly, we often invoke Mary as "Health of the Sick". The sick and the needy are always in the heart of their Mother, who is also our Mother, such that we may not be indifferent. Not only does she intercede for them before the Lord, but she is also asking us to do what the Lord wishes: to stand by the sick, the elderly, the homeless, the migrants and any person in need. She is asking us to stand by all of them as their neighbours, like the Good Samaritan, like St. John of God. She is asking us to be creative and capable of innovating in hospitality, to care for and heal our suffering brothers and sisters. She is teaching us to do it as she did, by visiting and helping her cousin Elizabeth before she gave birth, accompanying her Son throughout His life and in all circumstances, and especially at the moment of Our Lord's passion, and by standing at the foot of the Cross.
I know that during this pandemic the Hospitaller Family of St. John of God is responding with great dedication and commitment. I want to express my sincere thanks and admiration to you all. Let us remember, pay tribute to, and pray for all the Brothers, Co-workers and Volunteers and all their loved ones in the Order who have suffered from the consequences of the virus, and all those who have gone to heaven, confidently knowing that they have been welcomed by the Father into His Kingdom.
I would like to call to mind our St. John of God Family in places such as Cuba, Venezuela and Cameroon, and many others I might mention, for the additional hardships they are experiencing, and also for the enthusiasm and commitment with which they are confronting these moments. One Brother from Cameroon said recently, referring especially to the centre at Batibó, that they are living "beneath the dire poverty level". Our Mother is certainly there, too, and she is still telling us to do whatever He tells you, that is, show them hospitality.
As you know, and because of the pandemic, we are continuing with the deferred Canonical Visitations planned by the General Government as well as other scheduled in-person activities until things improve and travel can resume. Nevertheless, using the virtual media, we are still carrying out the greatest possible number of activities and meetings because the virus cannot paralyse us if our faith and hope in the Lord remain unshakeable and if we are convinced and committed to our sick and needy brothers and sisters, albeit with all the necessary precautions we are being cautioned to take. And in October we held virtual meetings of the General Definitory with all the Provincial Superiors of the Order, by Region. It was appreciated by them all, and we hope to continue in this way if the current state of affairs continues for longer than expected.
I wish to end this message by asking all the members of our Family: Brothers, Co-workers and Volunteers, prompted and assisted by Our Mother, to ensure that no-one is left behind when we practise hospitality! May no-one close their hearts to the sick and the needy. May no-one become inward-looking, forgetting those who are suffering and alone (even in our own communities and our families), faithful to our vocation, to Jesus Christ and to our Founder, St. John of God.
Speaking personally and in the name of the whole Hospitaller Family of the General Curia, I wish you all a happy celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lady of the Patronage. And I pray, especially at the time of the coronavirus pandemic, that she will bless our Order, the sick and all the Hospitaller Family of St. John of God. Let us pray for each other.
With my fraternal best wishes.
Brother Jesús Etayo