The Prior General's 8th communiqué
Rome, 31 July 2020
COVID – 19 (8)
To all the Brothers and Co-workers, Members of the Hospitaller Family of St. John of God
Dear Brothers and Co-workers,
I am writing once again about the coronavirus pandemic which has been gradually affecting every continent and every country in the world since the beginning of the year, with a few differences, but with huge repercussions on everyone, in the areas of health care, the economy and people’s social, psychological and spiritual life in general.
Covid-19 contagions are on the increase and the number of the affected is rising all the time: today, there are about 17 million infected people worldwide, of whom more than 660,000 have died. The United States, Brazil and India are the countries with the most positive cases. Alongside them, some Latin American countries, such as Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, are now seriously stricken by the pandemic. In the coming months, we hope that the incidence and virulence of the virus in these badly hit countries will decline.
In Africa, the impact has not been very strong so far, but the numbers of infected people are gradually growing, especially in South Africa and a few other countries. As I write, in the countries where the Order is present, the situation is relatively under control and in our Centres in Africa we have had very few positive cases.
In Europe and countries such as China, Korea, Australia and others, which had been through difficult times at the start of the pandemic, the situation has now improved, although fresh outbreaks are continuing, as a warning to everyone to be very cautious and to continue to take all every prevention measure, even by re-imposing more restrictive measures. In some places, new outbreaks of contagion are making it harder to control them, and there is even talk about the possibility of new waves in the months to come. In short, we all know that until there is an effective vaccine available, we must get used to living with the virus.
As for the impact of Covid-19 on the Order, the main focus is still America, especially the South, as it was in my last communication. Some Houses have been through, or are now passing through difficult times. The latest data we have on our Latin American Centres are as follows: 330 Co-workers have been infected, of whom one has died; 779 patients have tested positive of whom 21 have died, and 3 Brothers have tested positive, one admitted to hospital.
As far as the Brothers of the Order are concerned, according to the data mentioned above, 51 Brothers have been infected, (five of whom have died as I reported in previous notices) and 43 have recovered satisfactorily.
The number of Co-workers testing positive for coronavirus, in addition to those just mentioned in Latin America, are slightly more in other continents, but the incidence is very low at the moment. Altogether, over 1,000 Co-workers have been infected, and three have died, as we have already reported.
It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of people infected with coronavirus admitted to our hospitals and those who have tested positive in our residential and social care centres. However, so far around 5,000 positive patients have been cared for in our Houses, of whom some 500 have died. Let us all pray to the Lord for the members of our Hospitaller Family affected by the virus, for all patients in our Centres, and for all the people worldwide suffering from the effects of the pandemic.
These are the data on the pandemic and the impact on the world and on the Order. As I have said, we have no idea how it will continue to evolve, but it is obvious that it will continue living with us, at least until we have an effective vaccine. While it is true that we are slowly getting to know and learn more about the virus to be better prepared to control and deal with it, not every country has the same resources. The fact remains that the pandemic is seriously damaging the world economy and especially the economies of many countries that are already in a difficult situation, which is bringing with it many other detrimental effects in terms of physical and psychological health, unemployment, poverty, hunger and other diseases that are not being adequately addressed because of Covid-19. In my previous communication I mentioned this as the "new normal" that we have to get used to, and certainly has little to do with the normal way of life we enjoyed before.
Time is passing and the pandemic is continuing to strike. It is normal for uncertainty and sometimes pessimism to grow in the face of events, including the unhelpful decisions and actions of certain politicians that we have all seen on the social media. That is why it is important more than ever to continue appealing to everyone, especially young people, to show responsibility, generosity and solidarity with those who are infected, with those who are most at risk, such as the elderly, sick, excluded and marginalised, who are suffering most directly from the consequences of the pandemic by unemployment so many other psychological and spiritual repercussions.
Since the pandemic is continuing to spread widely let me reiterate the fact that hospitality is the best guarantee for dealing with this situation. Our Hospitaller Family of St. John of God is passing through a charismatic emergency, in which we must give of our best in serving the poor, sick and needy, firstly during the health crisis, but also in the enduring economic and social crisis that often coexist. I know that the Order is making a great effort and an appropriate charismatic response to this emergency wherever it is present. That is why I wish once again to thank all the members of our St. John of God Family, for the commitment and the service you are deploying for the victims of Covid-19, making the Hospitality of the Good Samaritan, bequeathed to us by St. John of God, our Founder, ever alive and evident.
The effects of coronavirus are still having a major impact on the dynamics and life of the Order. Movement is severely restricted at the moment and so it is only possible to perform some of our scheduled activities remotely and virtually, both at the the General Curia and in the Provincial Curias. In principle, it is only in Europe that it is possible to move about to a certain extent, and in fact we have been able to hold some face-to-face meetings. However, we will have to see whether or not it will be possible in the coming months, depending on the evolution of the virus outbreaks.
A few days ago the members of the General Definitory held a virtual meeting to discuss some issues and report on the current situation in the different regions of the Order. Among other things, and since we had had to cancel the Assembly of Provincial Superiors planned in Rome for the first week of October, we agreed to organise some General Council meetings with Provincial Superiors by region, in order to work onvarious matters already scheduled and to present a few documents for implementation in the Provinces and Delegations. Some of the documents will be circulated shortly to be read and studied by the Provincial Superiors. In the first half of September, the convocation notice will be sent out in writing. These meetings will be virtual and will take place in the first fortnight of October. Only if the pandemic permits it, will the meeting of the European Region be held face to face. It was also agreed to try to hold as many as possible of the General and Regional Commission meetings scheduled for this year in virtual format. All other face-to-face activities will remain cancelled, until it becomes possible to travel again.
Let me end with a few words from the Letter entitled "Let’s Take Care of One Another Just As Our Saving God Cares For Us", addressed to all the Religious in the world by Sr Jolanta Kafka RMI, President of the UISG and Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, President of USG, 29 June 2020:
"The Lord Jesus promised to be with us every day until the end of history and he gave us his spirit, which reminds us of everything he learned from the Father and transmitted to us as his followers.
In Religious Life we are called to bear witness to the tender love of God who, in Jesus, takes care of all human beings. We are called to take care of the lives of the discarded, which this pandemic has multiplied exponentially, a consequence of the unjust structures of our world, unable to put human beings and the Common Good at the centre of local, national or world political decisions.
We are called to take care of the present and future of humanity, in its relationship with the environment, accompanying young people and learning from them, to renew the meaning of our life and mission as consecrated persons.
In the face of so much neglect, highlighted by the pandemic, we want, as religious and consecrated persons, to initiate processes that lead to a culture of care, through deep dialogue with our companions in the mission. With the greatest respect for the conscience and vocation of each one, an environment of discernment may begenerated that can enlighten the apostolic programming and can contribute to themission of reconciling all things in Christ. To care, and to allow oneself to be cared for in order to grow as religious in a universal dimension.”
At this pandemic time, let us proclaim the culture of care for all, especially the weakest and most vulnerable, so that the hope and trust always offered to us by the God of Life may continue to reign. Take care of each other, with the tenderness and hospitality with which God cares for us!
United in hospitality and prayer, I send you all my fraternal best wishes.
Brother Jesús Etayo
Rome, 30 June 2020
COVID – 19 (7)
To all the Brothers and Co-workers, Members of the Hospitaller Family of
St. John of God
I last wrote
to you about a month ago about the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it was
having on the world and our Order. But far from improving, more parts of the
world have since been affected, and the virus is continuing to spread and become
alarmingly more acute. At the present time, just under ten million people have now
been infected by Covid-19, of whom around half a million have died and five
million have recovered.
of the pandemic is no longer in Europe, but has moved to America, both in the
North, especially the United States, and in Central and South America, where
the hardest-hit countries are Brazil, Peru, Chile and Mexico, although the
situation is also worrying in other countries in the region.
Another major area
where outbreaks are expanding is India, with more than half a million people infected
and over 15,000 deaths. On the African continent, at the moment the coronavirus
pandemic is not so severe, but the numbers of sick people are rising and it is
feared that they may increase much further later on, which we sincerely hope will not be the case, for the good of
In Europe and in
countries such as China, Korea, Australia and others, the situation has
improved, lockdowns and quarantines are now virtually over, and what is being called
"the new normal", which means having to comply with prudential and safety
measures, is returning. People are anxious to avoid backsliding and making it necessary to isolate once again,
although we already have frequent pockets of contagion that are under control
for the time being. Medical specialists are also fearful of new waves of
contagion later on, at least until an effective vaccine is found, and that is
likely to take time, despite the hastened pace of research.
As for the
impact of Covid-19 on the Order, the situation varies according to the epicentre.
When the main hotspot was Europe, the impact was very severe, as everyone
knows. At the moment it has weakened considerably, and seems to be under
None of the Brothers
of the Order are sick with the virus anywhere in the world, as things stand
today. We have had a total of 47 infected Brothers, of whom five have died, as
I reported in my previous messages, and 42 have now recovered satisfactorily.
A very large number
of Co-workers have tested positive for coronavirus. But apart from three who have
sadly died, all of them have recovered. We have no precise numbers of the
Co-workers who have been infected during the pandemic, but we know that there
have been at least 800. Of these, around 200 are still ill, most of them in Houses
in America. There have also been a few cases
in Europe, but their numbers are now declining, with very few in Africa, all
number of coronavirus-infected people admitted to our hospitals, in addition to
the people who have tested positive to the virus in our residential and social centres,
as things stand today we have cared for about 4000 patients in our Houses, of whom
around 400 have died.
These are the rough
facts and figures on how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected us to date as far
as people’s health is concerned. But as I mentioned in my previous
communications, other areas are also being severely impacted by this pandemic,
such as the economy, as well people’s social and spiritual wellbeing. In some
places, the people are returning to work in all sectors, but with great caution
and anxious to avoid taking steps backwards, giving rise to fresh outbreaks leading
to further lockdowns. Even so, the economic crisis is predicted to be huge,
with major job losses for many people, creating many social problems and affecting
family life. And this will occur without any certainty about how the pandemic might
evolve, which could lead to even more difficult and complicated scenarios.
places, especially where things seem to be most under control, there is talk of
"the new normality." A truly novel term, that in itself implies that
it is not a real normal. It is not really ‘normal’ because although many areas are
now free to move around in, every day we have to live as if we are "at
risk", to make sure we do not lower
our guard in the event of a real and very possible fresh outbreak. We have to ‘socially
distance’ ourselves, wear face masks, wash our hands frequently and so many
other things. We can go out and meet the Brothers, our families and friends,
but always "taking great care". But even this is a lot to ask of
people who have already had to spend months isolated and locked down in their homes.
We can now go to work, taking due care, with regard to meetings etc, so that
home-working seems to have become permanently established, and the online
platforms are making it possible for us to hold all kinds of meetings. We can
go to the bar and to restaurants, we can travel to certain places... but always
"taking care," until there is an effective vaccine.
This new normal is an uncertain normal. We cannot, and must not, lower our guard. And it is also a normal that demands a sense of responsibility, because ignoring calls to act prudently can also affect others. The present moment is also necessarily calling out for generosity and solidarity, because the coronavirus threatens people's lives and also their livelihoods. And, as is always the case, those who suffer the most will certainly be the poorest and most vulnerable. Lastly, this is why this this novel “new normal” phase has to be addressed by guaranteeing hospitality: responsible, generous and supportive, inclusive and welcoming hospitality, in the face of all this uncertainty
In my previous messages, while we were living under lockdown in many parts of the world, especially in Europe at the time, I told you that the hour of hospitality had arrived. Now I am saying the same to those of you living in places where you are in quarantine or lockdown. But I am also saying it for those of us who have embarked on this "new normal": for all of us, it is also the hour of hospitality. We must reach out beyond ourselves responsibly, generously and with solicitude, to welcome the many people who are living in uncertainty and precariously in any area of their lives. I urge all the Brothers, Communities and Centres once again to be sensitive to the needs of the people at this time and to help them generously, creatively and boldly. Will you please notify the General Curia Secretariat of the initiatives and projects that your Provinces, Centres and Communities are carrying out along the lines of everything I have just said. This will be a great way to share these initiatives that we can publicise throughout the whole Order on our website.
The coronavirus pandemic is having an obvious impact on the work and activities of the Order, the Provincial Curias and the General Curia. We have had to cancel almost all our scheduled visits, as well as visits and face-to-face meetings in Rome. During this time, we have held several virtual sessions of the General Definitory, to be able to keep track of, and respond to essential issues in the life of the Order. On June 25 we had the last meeting of the General Definitory, and looking ahead to the likely situation of the pandemic in the world, we decided to cancel the General Canonical Visitations planned for 2020, as well as the Assembly of Provincial Superiors scheduled for the beginning of October. Around these dates we shall certainly be planning to hold online meetings with the Provincial Superiors, either by Region or by language, to deal with some of the more urgent issues and news. At the Curia General, we shall endeavour to hold all the commission and working group meetings in virtual form. If the situation does not change much, all the meetings and visits, at least the intercontinental ones, will be deferred to a later date.
I would like, once again, to thank all the Brothers, Co-workers and Volunteers of all the Houses of the Order, for your efforts, service and commitment in the fight against the pandemic, sometimes under the most difficult conditions. You are honouring St. John of God and all the many Brothers and Co-workers throughout the history of the Order who have thrown themselves, without a thought for their own safety, into the fight again suffering, poverty and disease, often during fierce epidemics that have taken many of their lives. This was the price they paid for radically living hospitality. We pray that our Lord will ensure that no-one will lose their lives and, if possible, that no-one will become infected by this virus, and that we may be equally radical and responsible Hospitallers as they were.
Let me close with a few of the ever-inspiring words of Pope Francis, to the priests of the Diocese of Rome on 31 May 2020:
Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you. When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19-21)
The Lord did not choose the perfect situation to appear suddenly in the midst of his disciples. Certainly we would have preferred that what happened did not have to happen, but it did; and like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we too can continue to speak sadly and in hushed tones along the way (cf. Lk 24:13-21). Yet by appearing in the Upper Room behind closed doors, amid the isolation, fear and insecurity experienced by the disciples, the Lord was able to surpass all expectations and to give a new meaning to history and human events. Any time is fitting for the message of peace; in no situation is God’s grace ever lacking. Jesus’ appearance in the midst of confinement and forced absence proclaims, for those disciples and for us today, a new day capable of challenging all paralysis and resignation, and harnessing every gift for the service of the community. By his presence, confinement became fruitful, giving life to the new apostolic community.
The presence of Our Lord changes everything. May the hope and assurance we are offered by the peace of the Risen Lord, who lives in our midst, reign over us all in times of uncertainty and trouble.
United in hospitality and prayer, I send you my fraternal best wishes.
Rome, 20 May 2020
COVID – 19 (6)
To all the Brothers and Co-workers , Members of the Hospitaller Family of St. John of God
I am writing to you for the sixth time on the subject of the coronavirus pandemic that is still spreading throughout the world, although the impact on the people is changing as time passes. Today, almost five million people have been diagnosed positive with Covid-19, and more than 325,000 people have already died. There are also many thousands of others who have been restored to health. However, the pandemic continues to advance, in some places for the first time and in others with the fear of new waves of infection in the offing. All are hoping for a vaccine that will prove effective and be within reach of the entire world population, which is going to take time, yet to be determined.
In many parts of the world, and thanks to the restrictive emergency measures taken, infections and deaths have been greatly reduced. These countries are currently embarking on a new phase, with fewer restrictions, in order to gradually return to what some are calling the "new normal", while fearing that they may have to step back again in the event of fresh spikes of contagion. Elsewhere, severe restrictions still remain in place, and in others the people are awaiting an even more virulent outbreak of the virus.
As far as the Order and our communities and centres are concerned, the general situation is much quieter at the moment. Most of the previously infected Brothers have now recovered, with the exception of three, whom we expect to recover in the next few days. But even though they now test negative, in some cases the virus has left them in need of care and treatment.
The same goes for our Co-workers. Many of them have been infected, but thank God most of them are already well again, although a significant group remain ill, and sadly we have to announce the death of one Co-worker in Colombia.
As far as the Covid-19 patients in our Centres are concerned, the numbers are also considerably improving. There are still several hospitals, especially in Europe, which are still treating coronavirus patients. We have treated more than 2000 coronavirus patients, of whom around 300 have died.
As we enter phase two in many countries, because infections and deaths from the virus have decreased considerably, we realise that Covid-19 is not only having repercussion on people’s health, but is also having social, economic, spiritual and institutional repercussions. And there is a great deal of debate about the need to lift restrictions and reopen business and restart the economy, because if not, the resultant economic and social crisis will be even worse.
Pope Francis tells is that, "The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love" (Misericordiae Vultus, 10). In my previous letters I told you that this is the hour of hospitality. It is the time to manifest the compassionate and merciful Christ of the Gospel among men and women (cf. The Constitutions of the Order, 5). It is time to reach out beyond ourselves, taking all due precautions, to assist those in need, victims, in this case, of the pandemic, not only to provide health care but to assist them socially, economically and spiritually. This is the way to make the Church credible and to make us credible, as the Order and Family of St. John of God.
At the institutional level of the Order, we are anticipating major difficulties for many centres and facilities of the Order because of the crisis caused by the pandemic: centres that have had to close down many of their services, others whose work has had to be greatly curtailed because the patients are simply not coming to us, and for other reasons that will throw many of our facilities into crisis. We must anticipate this, and manage it in the best possible way, making advance plans for when we have to adapt our services and resources to avoid becoming excessively indebted and undermine our viability. As far as possible, we must also stand ready to help each other within our own Provinces, as well as other more disadvantaged Provinces and centres due to their situation and the effects of the pandemic. As always, we do not doubt the generosity and hospitality with all our Order’s centres and people. The hour of hospitality has arrived, with our Hospitaller Family of St John of God.
As far as the social situation is concerned, problems of all kinds are escalating enormously despite the efforts of many governments to help their people: many are losing their jobs, others are having to wind up their companies and businesses because they are no longer a going concern, and very many people are beginning to run short of the bare essentials and have go asking for food, clothing and items to meet their basic necessities. Others can no longer afford to keep paying their rent and in all probability will lose their homes, etc. All of these are very distressing situations that cannot leave us unaffected and insensitive. For this reason, and within the bounds of their possibilities, I urge each Province and Centre to create opportunities to show practical solidarity and to help the people with great social needs around you, including those who work with us in our apostolic centres. I know that many of you are already doing this, and I also know that under these circumstances it is difficult to do because no one ever has enough left over. But we have to be creative and reinvent hospitality, especially with those closest to our centres, helping them with what we can, especially with regard to basic matters, or working jointly with other entities that also work for people most in need, so that no-one is left behind. I invite you all, especially the Brothers, to be pioneers and promoters of these projects, because the hour of hospitality is here... and neither must we be left behind.
Other consequences of the pandemic are the difficulties arising in human relations, mental health and at the spiritual and religious levels. In my previous letter I encouraged all the Spiritual and Religious Care Services to care for this dimension on behalf of the sick, their loved ones and our Co-workers. I want to relaunch this appeal once again, and extend it, not only to SBAR nurses but also to all the Brothers and Co-workers in the field of mental health and in general to all the members of our Family of St. John of God, to be ready to listen, accompany, attend and help all those who are suffering from any difficulty in these dimensions of their lives, because the personal, family, social and economic consequences of this pandemic are huge and are causing enormous suffering. For the whole Order and all its members, the hour of hospitality has arrived -- a time for us to listen, accompany and bring hope.
Caught up in this painful situation, the Spirit of the Risen Lord continues to speak to us through many acts of merciful and compassionate love that are being performed every day in our centres and throughout the world. Moreover, the Holy Spirit, to whose imminent coming at Pentecost we are looking forward, continues to be present within His Church and our Order, inspiring us with new ways of showing God's merciful and compassionate love through hospitality. What I have just indicated are just a few examples of the things I am urging you to do in each Province, Community and Centre, because the Our Lord’s Spirit is also telling us that this is the hour of hospitality for all of us. So what are we waiting for!
As I have said in each of my letters, I wish once again to voice my thanks to all the Brothers, Co-workers and Volunteers who have been working since the outbreak of the pandemic with such exemplary generosity, bearing witness to the best our Institution has to offer: hospitality and service to the sick and needy. Saint John of God is proud of you!
We have been locked down in Italy for more than two months, and of course so has the General Curia. Restrictions have now been relaxed, but some of the meetings that were planned are not yet possible. We are holding some, like the General Definitories, virtually, which enables us to keep track of and expedite the most urgent matters. But we do not yet know when we shall be able to get back to normal, and fear that it will take time, even though some things will gradually be unlocked. At the moment we have had to cancel the General Canonical Visitations planned to be held before July, as well as all the meetings scheduled to be held in Rome. We have also been forced to postpone the Provincial Assemblies for the Amalgamation of the Provinces of Spain and Latin America, scheduled for June and July, respectively. Depending on how the pandemic evolves, we will have to see whether the activities planned by the General Government can be carried out between August and the end of the year.
In my Easter letter this year I told you that May 1st would see the closure of the the celebration of the Jubilee Year of St Richard Pampuri, requested by Mgr Conrado Sanguineti, Bishop of Pavia, in which the Order has also been involved, and the Lombardy-Veneto Province in particular. Since the coronavirus pandemic has isolated the whole of Italy for more than two months, the Apostolic Penitentiary, at the request of the Bishop of Pavia, has granted an extension of the Jubilee Year until May 1st 2021.
May I conclude with a few words of Pope Francis: "Now, while we are looking forward to a slow and arduous recovery from the pandemic, there is a danger that we will forget those who are left behind. The risk is that we may then be struck by an even worse virus, that of selfish indifference. A virus spread by the thought that life is better if it is better for me, and that everything will be fine if it is fine for me. It begins there and ends up selecting one person over another, discarding the poor, and sacrificing those left behind on the altar of progress. The present pandemic, however, reminds us that there are no differences or borders between those who suffer. We are all frail, all equal, all precious. May we be profoundly shaken by what is happening all around us: the time has come to eliminate inequalities, to heal the injustice that is undermining the health of the entire human family!” (Homily on the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Rome 19 April 2020). In other words, the hour of hospitality has come, the hour in which we must stand together by the side of the sick, the poor and the needy, and the vulnerable and all those who have been discarded by the virus of selfish indifference.
United in hospitality and prayer, I send you my fraternal best wishes.
Brother Jesús EtayoSuperior General
Rome, 28 April 2020
COVID – 19 (5)
To all the Brothers and Co-workers, members of the Hospitaller Family of St. John of God
The coronavirus pandemic is continuing its advance and has now practically reached everywhere. The number of cases increases daily, as does the number of deaths, but also, thank God, does the number of people who have now recovered.
What is gradually changing are the different stages in the spread of the pandemic each country. Many countries have barely begun to be infected, or are still in the confinement phase, while other countries are now beginning to prepare for the next phase of lifting the lockdown. Certainly there are still many doubts and uncertainties about what might happen in this stage of "living with the virus", because there are still so many things we do not yet know about it.
As for the repercussions of covid-19 on the Order, from the information that has come to us to date, the situation is as follows: A total of 43 Brothers have been infected, of whom, as I indicated in my previous letter, 5 have since died, 24 have already recovered while 14 are still undergoing treatment but are now on the mend. Of these Brothers, eight are from the Spanish Provinces, four from the Good Shepherd Province (one of them belongs to the Korean Province and under Formation in Canada), another Brother is from the French Province and the other Brother is from the Lombardy-Veneto Province. We wish all of them a speedy recovery.
With regard to our infected Co-workers, we do not have any accurate figures, and many of those who were infected some time ago have already recovered and are back at work again. However, there are at least 300 co-workers currently infected, especially from Spain, Italy and Colombia, where a few days ago we heard that some 42 co-workers in one of Bogota's centres had been infected. In Africa, we have been told of a few cases of infection at the Monrovia hospital (Liberia), but so far we have not received any news of cases in the rest of the world where the Order is present.
We have lost a considerable number of our guests to covid-19 in some of our hospitals and centres. And some residents in the Order's care homes have also died from the virus, either while they were in our centres or in other hospitals where they had been transferred. For all of them and their families, we offer our prayers and our condolences.
But the pandemic is not only creating health problems, which are undoubtedly the most urgent to address. We are already seeing very clearly that as a result of this pandemic a major economic, financial, social, psychological and spiritual crisis is also looming. We are deeply concerned about this situation because it is going to have an impact on everyone, and the brunt will be borne by the most vulnerable people and nations.
Many are already experiencing difficulties with maintaining the centres due to the downturn in work, the approaching economic crisis and the fear of having to close down centres due to the contagion or lack of resources. It is now necessary to manage each centre taking all these matters into account and all the necessary possible measures to be able to maintain them. As always, we count on the generosity of the Order and all its Provinces, but this time we must remember that we are facing a worldwide crisis and that it will be difficult to meet all the demands made on us.
Faced with the difficult moments we are living through, and what seems to be a situation we will have to cope with worldwide in the coming months and years, the whole Order and our entire Hospitaller Family of St. John of God are being urged to give of our best: Hospitality in the manner of Saint John of God. All of us, Brothers and Co-workers together, are being asked to reach out beyond ourselves to assist the sick and also the poor and vulnerable people which the pandemic is already leaving by the wayside. We must do so by implementing every necessary preventive measure, but our mission of Hospitality also calls us to do it, to dedicate ourselves to our brothers and sisters in need, as St. John of God and many other Brothers have done before us.
May I remind you that we must pay special attention to providing spiritual and religious care in our centres, without ever overlooking it. We must uphold the standards of protection, but we must give spiritual and human comfort to the sick and their loved ones, our Co-workers and our Volunteers. Together with the army of the other Brothers and Co-workers, you are all called to make the love of God present to those who are suffering.
I wish once again to thank all the Brothers and Co-workers for your commitment and Hospitality at this time, as true children of St. John of God. We must all continue preparing to further step up our dedication to the sick, poor and needy people who this pandemic is leaving in its wake. The hour of hospitality is striking and we are all called by the Lord and the Church to be in the forefront offering God's Samaritan love to his most fragile and vulnerable children.
I am also attaching a short document prepared by the Order’s General Commission on Bioethics, for which our first General Councillor, Brother Joaquím Erra, is responsilble. It is a reflection to help us to identify the main effects of the pandemic, and provides a few criteria along the lines of what I have just indicated in this letter and a few resources that may be helpful to everyone. I invite you to read it and to send it to the chairpersons of the Committees or any other type of Bioethics groups or forums that you may have in your Provinces and Houses. I sincerely thank the General Commission on Bioethics.
I would like to end conclude by citing a few words from the communiqué issued by the Good Shepherd Province for our Co-workers on April 20th. "Mission Reflection: Hospitality as a Radical Response in Meeting the Needs of Others In our last update, we reflected on the Good Shepherd value of Adaptability. Today, we reflect on the Good Shepherd value of Dignity. Our mission of hospitality is guided by “basic human rights such as equitable access to food, security, shelter, healthcare and education” which, as our value describes, “are essential to human dignity”. Faith over Fear!: As essential as our roles are, it is understandable that we may bring our fears and anxieties into the workplace given the current environment. We are not alone. You are not alone. We will get through this together. It is understandable that we can bring our fears and anxieties to the workplace, given the current environment. We're not alone. You're not alone. We'll get out of this together."
This is a wonderful way of deploying our mission of Hospitality today: by defending the dignity of the most fragile and vulnerable people, so that they may who grow strong as a result of this pandemic. Do not let fear take hold of us, for our faith in the Risen Lord and the Hospitality we have received according to the spirit of St. John of God, are sending us forth into the world to take love, solidarity and dignity to all those in need, in whom the Risen Christ is embodied.
United in hospitality and prayer, especially in these days of celebrating the Week of Prayer for Vocations, I send you all my fraternal best wishes.
Brother Jesús Etayo
Rome, 14 April 2020
COVID – 19 (4)
To all the Brothers and Co-workers, members of the Hospitaller Family of St. John of God
This year we have lived through Holy Week and celebrated Easter in an unprecedented and quite different way in most countries in the world because of the coronavirus pandemic. Because of lockdown imposed in certain countries, many people and also Religious communities have had to take part in the celebrations through the television or virtually. We have seen the Vatican celebrations taking place in an empty St. Peter's Basilica, in a strange atmosphere. This is how we have had to celebrate it this year and how we ushered in Easter with the joy and the hope that the life that the Risen Christ brings us will be the last word, and will help us to overcome this time of pain, suffering and death we are now living through.
As you know, the pandemic is spreading and now reaching virtually every corner of the world, with different effects. Over the coming weeks we will learn more about how the arrival of the virus has been affecting different continents and countries.
At the present time, it is the United States that has the highest number of infected people and the most deaths, followed by several countries in Europe, including Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The virus has also reached Latin America and Africa, where the impact is not very great at the moment, although we shall have to monitor developments in the coming weeks, as well as Asia, Australia and the Pacific.
Most people in the world are in lockdown or isolation, waiting for the situation to be brought under control. At the moment only China has started lifting lockdown, leaving a few restrictions in place for reasons of prudence, since no-one knows exactly how the virus will behave.
As far as the Order is concerned, Covid-19 is following the same patterns as we see worldwide. So far, according to the information that has been sent in to us, four Brothers have died of the coronavirus (two in Aragon, one in Andalusia and one in France). Several Brothers have become infected by the virus, most of them in Spain, one in Italy and two in France, one of whom has died. In Spain, in addition to the deceased Brothers, twelve have already recovered and have been tested negative, while 18 are still being treated and we hope this will be confirmed in the coming days, as well as the Brother in the Lombardy-Veneto Province and the one in France ,who are still testing positive.
As for our Co-workers, a substantial number have been infected, mainly because a large number of the Order’s hospitals treat patients with coronavirus. We do not have any exact data, but from what we know there are around 300 Co-workers, mostly in Spain and Italy – as well as some in other countries, and we have heard today the first cases in Africa – have tested positive for coronavirus, with the corresponding number of colleagues who have had to self-isolate. Little by little they are improving, recovering, and we have not heard of any deaths since I last reported to you.
Many patients with Covid-19 are being treated in the Order's hospitals. A good number of them are recovering, but sadly some are also dying, unable to beat the infection. There have also been some deaths in our Care Homes, although they are generally working well to prevent the spread of contagion.
Today I would like particularly to mention the Care Homes, the Mental Health Centres, Centres and facilities for people with disabilities, the homeless, migrants and the excluded. As you know, they are at special risk, and extreme measures have to be adopted to prevent contagion, in order to avoid even worse problems from arising. We must listen to the experts and comply with the instructions that have been issued. But all new admissions must now be allocated to separate areas in the Centres according to whether they are infected or not, avoiding at all costs any new sources of contagion.
I would like to thank the Latin America region for coordinating and helping all the Provinces and Delegations to align their criteria and standards with the appropriate standards in every respect. Similarly, several weeks ago a Crisis Unit for Africa was put in place, coordinated by the Juan Ciudad Foundation, with the participation of various entities of the Order in Europe (Ireland, the Netherlands and Italy), the Province of St. Augustine, and the General Curia’s Missions and International Cooperation Office, mainly in order to advise and assist the Houses of the two African Provinces, establishing the protocols to be followed, finding out their needs and providing some resources to be able to purchase the necessary PPE in an initial phase. This group is at work all the time and depending on how the virus proceeds, it will see how to continue to help the Houses in Africa.
I would not like to conclude this communication without thanking, once again, all the Brothers and Co-workers who are hard at work to the verge of exhaustion over the course of these days, assisting the sick and the guests in our Centres and their loved ones, in the fight against this pandemic. In some places, the conditions appear to be improving a little, but we are aware that they are still very difficult and sometimes precarious. Thank you all on behalf of the entire Hospitaller Family of St. John of God.
At the Curia General we are also practically in isolation. Many activities and meetings scheduled for this period have therefore had to be suspended. Some things can be done virtually, but others cannot. We have no idea how long this situation will last. But once it is over, we will have to reschedule everything that cannot be done now. You will of course be told in due course.
I thank the Provincial Superiors for the information they are sending us and I urge you to keep it up, to be able to ensure that we always have the most up-to-date data possible.
The situation is still very difficult and we do not know how long it will continue. In many places we are still isolated, and life is still very hard. At this Eastertide, let us continue to place our trust in the Risen Christ, who continues to tell us that at this time of coronavirus, hospitality is always the most appropriate and effective response we can make when faced by suffering and death. I urge all the Brothers and Co-workers to continue to bear witness to the hospitality of Saint John of God, for the good of the sick and needy, and of the Church and the world.
Let us continue to pray for one another and for the world, especially remembering those who are suffering most severely from this pandemic. Let us commit our Brothers, Co-workers and family members who have already died, and those who are still suffering from this disease, to our Risen Lord.
With my fraternal best wishes,
Brother Jesús Etayo
Rome, 30 March 2020
COVID – 19 (3)
To all the Brothers and Co-workers, Members of the Hospitaller Family of St John of God
Dear all, I am writing to you once again to feel the closeness of our whole Family and to brief you on the situation in the Houses of the Order in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic that is still spreading and is now rife in almost every country in the world.
We are learning daily from the media how the pandemic is affecting the world. According to today’s figures, over seven hundred thousand people have the disease, thirty-four thousand have died and one hundred and forty-nine thousand have recovered worldwide. The United States has the largest number of cases so far, but Europe, especially Italy and Spain followed by France, Germany and other countries, is where the pandemic is spreading most with the highest death toll. Unfortunately, the virus is increasingly spreading to every continent, as I mentioned last week, making it necessary to enforce highly restrictive preventive measures in most parts of the world. At the moment, China is the only country in which the virus seems to be slowing down and some restrictions are being lifted. This situation is creating a huge health crisis, whose magnitude we cannot even guess as yet, not to mention a massive economic, financial and social crisis.
As for the Order’s Centres and Houses, according to the reports we have been sent so far, the most worrying situation is still in Italy and Spain, although, as I said before, virtually all the countries in which the Order is present have Covid-19 cases, and the necessary action is being taken, at least so we trust.
No Brothers have been infected in any House of the Order except in Italy where we have one Brother who has tested positive for coronavirus, and in Spain where we have 14 Brothers who have also tested positive. Most of them have now been isolated in their Communities and some admitted to hospital for treatment.
With regard to our Co-workers, although we do not have accurate information from every Province, I can tell you that at least around 280 have tested positive for coronavirus. This is causing alarm in some Centres because of the staff shortages, because in many instances, every Co-worker who has been in contact with a patient who has tested positive is having to be quarantined.
As for deaths from Covid-19 in our Houses, some patients have died, especially in certain hospitals that have been asked by the authorities to treat coronavirus patients. With regard to the Brothers, two Brothers have died, one was 97 years old, as I reported last week, while the other was 88. None of the Brothers who died during the previous week had been suffering from the virus, and only one Co-worker in Italy has died while he was on leave.
Once again, I would like to thank all the Brothers and Co-workers who are doing their utmost to assist the sick and their families to combat this pandemic. We also know that you are doing so under very difficult conditions, especially in the most badly affected countries, due to a lack of materials and the fact that the number of patients has now reached saturation point. I cannot thank you enough, and I know that St John of God is sustaining you and accompanying you by his presence and his intercession.
Last Friday, March 27, Pope Francis stood virtually alone in St Peter's Square in the Vatican, where he imparted the Urbi et Orbe blessing for the occasion of this pandemic. During the prayer and after reading a text from St Mark’s Gospel, he spoke a few deeply meaningful words, so full of enlightenment. I would just like to recall a few paragraphs for our whole Family of St. John of God:
“The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we flounder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.
Embracing his Cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).
I also thank the Provincial Superiors for the information you are sending us, and I urge you to continue doing so.
The situation remains fraught and we have no idea how long it will last. Let us not be afraid, as Pope Francis tells us, but let us nurture our faith and our hope in the Lord, and place the best best of ourselves at the service of the sick and needy, offering hospitality, as our Brothers have always done, and as our Founder, St John of God, has taught us to do. Let us help one another, in our Houses, and between the Houses in the Provinces, and between the Provinces belonging to each Region. No individual solution to this problem is possible, and we must all seek it together, collaborating and placing what we have at the service of others. It is also time to fight this pandemic by networking. Let no-one keep anything back when faced with the needs of others.
Let us all continue to pray for each other and all for the world, especially for those who are suffering the most from this pandemic. Let us remember our Brothers, Co-workers and their loved ones who have already died, and all those who are suffering at the present time, and entrust them into Our Lord’s hands.
Brother Jesús Etayo
Rome 23 March 2020
COVID – 19 (2)
To all the Brothers
and Co-workers, members of the Hospitaller Family of St John of God
It has been a week since I last wrote to you, and now I would like to update you on the situation in the Order’s Houses regarding the coronavirus pandemic, which is continuing to spread and increasingly affect more countries around the world.
You already know from the media how it is spreading to more places and affecting more people. The epicentre at the moment is still Europe, where virtually every country is affected and has adopted increasingly restrictive measures. Italy and Spain, followed by France, Germany and the United Kingdom, are the countries with the largest number of sick and the highest death toll, especially the first two countries where the sick and the dead are reaching absolutely unforeseeable numbers, and what is worse, no-one can be certain when they will begin falling and be brought under control. In some places, the health care systems have reached breaking point, making everything more difficult.
Outside Europe, the cases are on the increase in the United States and also in Canada, and almost all the Latin American and Caribbean countries are introducing tough preventive measures because they are now having to deal with a few outbreaks there.
In Asia, the numbers seem to be being brought under control in China and even South Korea, although they are still imposing very restrictive measures. Elsewhere in Asia, Australia and the Pacific, restrictive measures have also been introduced because the virus has also reached them.
This pandemic is also unfortunately reaching Africa, and appeals are being made for restrictive measures to be imposed in every country to prevent the spread, because of the additional difficulties that may arise. Many countries have already taken action, and we hope that they can contain it.
As for the Centres and Houses of the Order, according to the information that has been sent to us so far, I can tell you the following:No Brothers or Co-workers have been infected in the Houses of the Order, except for the following:
Italy: For the moment no Brothers have been infected, but a few Co-workers in the Lombardy-Veneto and in Tiber Island Hospital have fallen sick. At the moment, the biggest worry is in Northern Italy, where the health services are reaching breaking point. Our House at Erba has been hit the most severely, while the situation is better elsewhere.
Spain: This is where we are most seriously affected. For the moment, one 97-year-old Brother has died of Coronavirus and 9 Brothers of the three Provinces and one Sister who serves in one of our Centres have also been infected, but at the moment they are well and do not need to be admitted to hospital, and several are asymptomatic. Among our Co-workers, around 100 have tested positive for Covid-19. Madrid remains the most critical place, followed by Catalonia and the Basque Country. Our Centres are working very hard in coordination with the Authorities, and several Centres are treating coronavirus patients.
Austria: The situation is under better control than in the other two countries, but at 19 March at least six Co-workers had been infected.
It should also be borne in mind that the infected Brothers and Collaborators have also made it necessary for a significant number of other people to be placed in quarantine or isolation.
I ask all of us to join in prayer with the whole Church and the entire Hospitaller Family of St John of God to pray for all the sick and everyone affected by the virus, and especially for all the members of our Family, Brothers and Co-workers, who have been infected.
On behalf of the whole Order, I would like to thank all the Brothers and Co-workers who are doing their very best to assist the sick and their families in fighting this pandemic. We are very proud of you, because once again you are making the charism and mission of Hospitality shine bright, beyond any speeches and words: with your commitment, often pushed to extremes, with your smile when you do not feel like smiling, with your continued search for resources, as good Samaritans, as new John of Gods, increasing in number for the sake of the suffering, the fearful, terrified elderly people and apprehensive young men and women. For the sick, you are the Archangel Raphael bringing them comfort, the love of God, tenderness and humanity. We thank you for all this. And this is why you deserve all the applause and praise that people are giving professionals in many countries and you also show us that our Lord does not forget us and that we therefore have good grounds for hope and trust that this battle will be won.
Some countries are still free of the virus, or it has affected them very little. I urge all of you, Brothers and Co-workers, if you have not already done so, to put in place all the necessary preventive measures in the Centres and in the Communities. This pandemic is getting more virulent than anyone imagined, and we still have no idea how far it is going to develop. Please take all the the measures suggested by the authorities and those who, drawing on their own past experience, know how necessary they are. I am especially thinking of the countries in Africa, which have experienced Ebola. Get going, and adopt every measure and protocol, learning from that bitter experience.
We are continuing through Lent as we approach Easter. Let us live through this liturgical season with all the pain and sadness of the suffering which the pandemic is bringing with it, but with hope in the Lord of Life and with the confidence that, with our Lord’s help, we shall overcome.
I continue to ask the Provincials and Local Superiors to adopt all the necessary measures in the Provinces and in each Community to avoid contagion, avoiding any Community meetings of any kind if necessary.
I thank the Provincial Superiors for the information you are sending us on how this pandemic is affecting each Province. Please continue to report back to us so that we can keep the whole Order informed, and above all, so that we can be closer to you.
These are harrowing times for all, and things even seem to be getting worse. With all due precautions and in compliance with all the rules and standards, taking care of ourselves as we should, it is also the time for Hospitality, for making ourselves available, for setting an example, as our Religious forebears have done. Of them I would like especially to recall St John Grande, who in 1600 died in Jerez de la Frontera (Spain) after catching the plague, taking hospitality to its most extreme lengths, just as our Brothers did when they recently died as a result of Ebola.
Let us all pray for each other and all for the world, especially for those who are suffering the most from this pandemic.
Brother Jesús Etayo
To all the Brothers and Co-workers, and Members of the Hospitaller Family of St. John of God
I send you all my very best wishes, trusting that you are in the best of health, to brief you on with the situation that is creating the Coronavirus pandemic, particularly in the Houses of the Order.
As you know, this pandemic started in China, and we received the first news of it at the end of December last year. But it then spread very rapidly to other countries, such as South Korea and Iran and then to Europe, which they are now calling the epicentre of the pandemic. But, albeit to a much lesser degree, it is gradually spreading to other countries in Oceania, America and Africa. You can follow the developments in the media. The pandemic is already causing significant numbers of people to become infected and die.
As far as the Order is concerned, from what we know today, the situation is as follows,
China: None of the Brothers in our only Community in Yanji have been affected. However, we have not heard any news for quite a few days from Brother Joseph Han, a Chinese scholastic, who was locked down in Beijing in the first few days of February. The Superior of Yanji is doing his best to contact him, but so far with no success.
South Korea: The pandemic has produced a significant number of cases, but not among any of the Brothers, and from what we have been told, neither have any of our Co-workers been affected.
Italy: The situation here is very complicated. At the moment, no Brothers have been affected, but some of our Co-workers have fallen ill, as well some guests in some of our Centres. The situation is very difficult especially in Northern Italy, which means the Lombardy-Veneto Province, and there is a risk that the healthcare system may prove unable to cope. For the time being, in Rome and in the Rome Province, and in Central and Southern Italy, things are somewhat better, although a significant increase in cases is expected in the next few days. The government has appealed to everyone to stay at home. At the Curia General we are all well, and virtually all our Co-workers are now working from home. Likewise, many other Co-workers in our Centres are able to work from home, either because of the type of work they do, or because they are in statutory lockdown.
Spain: The situation has become more complicated in the past few days and is on track to follow what has occurred in Italy. At the moment, there is one Brother from the Ciempozuelos Community who has tested positive, but is well, and is following the medical protocols. But a good number of Co-workers have been affected or have self-quarantined, especially in some Centres in Madrid and Barcelona, two of the most contagious hotspots in Spain.
Other countries in Europe: The contagion is spreading unevenly, but in virtually every country it is rising, especially in Germany, France and the United Kingdom. At the moment we have no news of anyone affected in the Houses of the Order.
United States and Canada: We have no news of anyone affected in the Houses of Order.
Oceania: We have no news of anyone affected in the Houses of the Order.
Latin America and the Caribbean: We have no news of anyone affected in the Houses of the Order.
Africa: We have no news of anyone affected in the Houses of the Order.
Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region: We have no news of anyone affected in the Houses of the Order.
This is all the information about the Coronavirus pandemic that we can give you at this difficult time. As with every pandemic, the figures are very provisional and liable to change very quickly. I urge you all to comply strictly with all the rules and protocols laid down in every country to protect everyone from the virus.
I also ask all the Provincial Superiors, where they deem it appropriate and necessary, to issue clear instructions to the Houses and the Brothers and Communities, to prevent the contagion from spreading in both directions: to avoid being infected and infecting others. This could mean relieving the Brothers of certain activities, such as holding community and other meetings. In large Communities, the Brothers may only be dispensed from attending community prayers and celebrating the Eucharist in common where it is necessary.
These are very difficult times, at least in the places where the pandemic is doing its worst. As Brothers of St. John of God, our Centres must be available and prepared as well as possible to help and to work with society to combat this pandemic. Brothers who are unable to care for others personally must intensify their personal and if possible community prayer, praying that Our Lord will protect the sick and the dying, through the intercession of St. John of God, and for all the healthcare and other professionals who are tirelessly working to care for the sick.
I ask all of you, Brothers and Co-workers, to take good care of yourselves by following the instructions in each case. This applies especially to the older Brothers and those at risk, especially in the worst affected regions. You must remain indoors and follow the directions of your Superiors, even when this may be irksome.
I ask all the Provincial Superiors to keep us regularly briefed on the situation in their Provinces to acquaint us with the state of the Order in this pandemic and enable us to report back to the whole Order.
These are hard times for the whole world, but they are also occasions to bring out what we do best: showing hospitality, generosity, collaboration and dedication. Above all, living through them by showing concern, but also with faith and hope in Our Lord. He is sharing our suffering, and on Him we must pin all our trust and our hope, so that we can overcome these moments, which the experts unfortunately predict will continue for some time to come.
Let us pray for each other and for the whole world, especially for those who are suffering most acutely from this pandemic.
With my fraternal best wishes.
Brother Jesús Etayo