Fr. Pigi Bernareggi

Brazil: The Coronavirus paradox

He has been a missionary in Belo Horizonte for 50 years. Fr. Pigi Bernareggi talks about his gaze upon life during the pandemic. Between existential anguish for the victims and astonishment at how, within such difficulties, humanity can flourish again.

They ask me how I am living this period of Coronavirus. With existential anguish, knowing that there is no access to technical resources - particularly ventilators - and that people are dying suffocating in the water generated in their lungs by their own organism. Existential anguish, too, in perceiving the surreal opposition that the world propounds between the value of the person (saving lives) and that of the economy (saving businesses), even after two thousand years of Christianity.

I also experience the existential anguish, having dedicated much of my life to the problem of homelessness, of perceiving that, for a large part of the population, the "home" is no longer (or has never been) people’s main point of balance and well-being. People react negatively to the wise recommendations of the United Nations and of governments to “stay at home.”

Another reason for anguish: the spirit of disobedience towards the new norms of life, in the name of one's own individualistic and relativistic criterion. That is what Pope Benedict XVI denounced when he visited the University of Regensburg, where he had taught for many years. According to John Paul II, the greatest danger of the third millennium is born from this individualistic relativism: "The civilization of death."

St. Francis of Assisi says in his Canticle of the Creatures: "Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death, from whom no-one living can escape.” For him, there is no reality created by God that does not bring a blessing. The same is also true for Coronavirus. In fact, wherever the virus appears, a set of measures and human powers necessarily come into action: science, technology, solidarity in infinite forms, support structures, research for vaccines, financial aid. Governments are forced to put aside many operations of dubious significance, to hasten into effective action on behalf of the people. The parties themselves lose their individual importance in favour of the "common good". The horizon is more dignified, decent, idealistic, fraternal. In short, life is paradoxically happier, useful, necessary, interesting, "loved". Even everyday conversations become less boring, empty, futile. Human relationships become humanized. The final perspective becomes divine.

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For this reason, the Easter proclamation of these days (the Exultet) says: "O happy fault, which deserved to have such and so mighty a Redeemer!” That is why, these days, my colleagues and I from the Convivium Emaús (a home for elderly priests of the Diocese of Belo Horizonte) gather every day to pray the rosary for the world, shaken by Coronavirus, wanting to participate in so much good work, so much spirit of service, the purification of so many hearts. We want to live this period mysteriously invented by the Creator of all creatures: "Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Coronavirus!”

Pigi Bernareggi, Belo Horizonte, Brazil