It may seem a bit of a stretch to link this coronavirus to our Salesian history, but it is actually quite easy.
In 1854, cholera broke out in Northern Italy and in the summer of 1854, there were over 3,000 cases in Genoa, not far from Turin. This was a feared disease with a 60% death rate and created panic across the region. The first deaths in Turin occurred on July 30 of that year and Turin went into a major emergency state. The source of the outbreak was close to Don Bosco’s oratory in Valdocco but very soon the whole city was infected.
Don Bosco took precautions in the oratory and school:
· He opened up windows
· He instituted regular cleaning regimes of all areas
· In the dormitory areas, he opened up the spaces between the beds
· He set up a regular pattern of hand washing
· He began a pattern of regular prayer for the victims and those who were caring for them
At the end of the first week, the local government made an appeal for help for “first aiders” who could deal with the thousands of emerging cases of sick people. The problem was that cholera is a messy disease involving fever vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. People needed to be kept clean and given plenty of clean water to survive. The onset could be sudden, people were collapsing in the street. It was a mess, and a disgusting mess to deal with.
Don Bosco took action.
On August 5, Don Bosco spoke to his older pupils and said that he would go and help as a first-aider in the city. Immediately 14 pupils offered to help him. The next day another 30 volunteered. Don Bosco organized three groups:
– One to support work in the hospitals
– One to visit self-isolated patients
– One to search the streets for sick people or abandoned bodies.
Each of these teams worked in pairs and wore masks. Each pupil carried a bottle of vinegar to wash their hands before and after touching an infected person. If they ran out of vinegar, they had to return to the Oratory immediately. The pupils also provided fresh linen to victims and burnt the old linen. Bed sheets became so scarce that Don Bosco’s mother, Margaret, stripped the altar cloths from the church to provide clean sheets for the sick.
So, there in the Salesian history is a model of how we might think about our own, far less dramatic epidemic:
· Ensuring enough space between people to reduce cross-contamination
· Regular cleaning of public spaces
· Encouraging hand washing, especially educating our children on this.
· Starting a regular pattern of prayer for those who put themselves at risk in dealing with the Coronavirus.
Now for a prayer:
Lord Jesus, you traveled through towns and villages curing every disease and illness.
At your command, the sick were made well.
Come to our help now, as we face the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may all experience your healing love.
Heal those who are sick with the virus.
May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.
Keep our doctors and nurses safe and heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbors from helping one another.
Heal us from our pride, and help us to recognize our weakness as we work together against a disease that knows no borders.
Special thank you to Mike Sass (Class of ‘71) for sharing this inspiring story and prayer with Salesian High School.