As of April 21, 2020, the corona virus pandemic recorded 2,481,236 confirmed cases, 170,435 deaths and 646,848 recoveries, worldwide. These numbers come from 210 countries, areas and territories and two international conveyances. In the Philippines, 6,459 have been infected, 428 have died, and 613 recovered. The deadly surge continues. 

No cure has been found, no vaccine developed, despite the heroic efforts of scientists around the world to beat the virus. The news from Oxford University in London is that a vaccine may soon be available, but until that happens, the world will have to rely on various other means to “flatten the curve.”  Facial masks, hand-washing, and physical distancing, etc. may serve for the moment. 

Hospitals and health care systems have been overwhelmed. They have run out of bed space, face masks, ventilators, protective personal equipment, and in some cases, even medical staff. In some countries, they have run out of caskets and graves; crematoriums have run out of urns for the ashes of the dead. Hospitals have been compelled to reject those severely at risk in favor of those with greater prospects of getting cured; these include the elderly, 80 and above and with preexisting medical problems like heart disease or diabetes.

Catholic Christians, once fatally afflicted, no matter how devout, died “unconfessed,” without receiving the Holy Eucharist, after the public celebration of the Mass was cancelled due to the pandemic. Families  can not even go near the remains of their own dead, which are instantly cremated with or without their family’s consent and their ashes sealed in plastic, where urns had run out. 

In locked down communities, the pandemic imposes huge burdens on affected families. They have to keep their situation a secret. A couple of weeks ago, a neighbor of mine died, according to an advisory from the village governing board. But the name, address, and personal circumstances of the deceased were all withheld, and I did not know whom to pray for and which family to condole with. 

In this regard, my dear friend and former Senate colleague Heherson “Sonny” Alvarez was still truly blessed. Although he lost his brave fight against the disease on April 20, and the Senate could not even organize anymore the traditional necrological services in his honor, he did not end up as a statistic, like most everyone else. He died as Sonny Alvarez. And he died praising God and remembered by family and friends for the life he had lived in the service of others. May he rest in the Lord’s peace!

The Mass is the highest form of Christian prayer, and the Eucharist, according to the Church, is “the source and summit of Christian life.” The precepts of the Church require a Catholic to hear Mass every Sunday and to receive the Holy Eucharist at least once during Easter. But the  pandemic and the prescribed norms to combat it have made it impossible to comply with these precepts. 

Ever since the pandemic shut down the churches, and all throughout the holy season, Pope Francis has been celebrating daily Mass without a congregation, in an empty St. Peter’s basilica or Casa Santa Marta before a huge St. Peter’s Square bereft of pedestrians, peddlers and pilgrims. So has every other bishop or archbishop  around the world.

My wife and I have tried to follow the Pope’s daily mass online. Aside from this mass, there are others one could join. These include Bishop Robert Barron’s mass in Los Angeles, Archbishop Wilton Daniel Gregory’s mass in Washington, D.C., Cardinal Thomas Collins’s mass in Toronto, Cardinal Oswald Gracias’s mass in Bombay. Or Bishop Broderick Pabillo’s televised Sunday mass at the Manila Cathedral. It is not the same as being physically present in the Mass, but given the gravity of the crisis, it is a great help to remaining in the Faith.

In the United States, the moral theologian Janet Smith has called on the US bishops to find a way of allowing Catholics to receive the Eucharist during the crisis. Although one can live without receiving the Eucharist, one should not be allowed to die without it, she says. It is a valid point, but it is highly doubtful that while the Pope celebrates the Mass alone, any group of bishops will be allowed to do otherwise. 

For the Church and all Catholics, the Eucharist is the living presence—“the body and blood” —-of Jesus Christ. The faithful  have been receiving Him at daily Mass for the past 2,000 years. Since the lockdown, they have not been able to receive Him “sacramentally,” but only “spiritually,” by reciting the prayer of “spiritual communion” approved by the Church.  This comes in various forms, all of them valid. The one by St. Josemaria Escriva is perhaps the shortest: “I wish, Lord, to receive you with the purity, humility and devotion with which your most holy mother received you, with the spirit and fervor of the saints.”

While scientists are frantically searching for a cure to the pandemic, the world is eager to see political leaders provide greater leadership in cushioning the impact of  the crisis before and after it ends. The Singapore and South Korean governments appear to be providing that leadership. In the US, which is the hardest hit, with 799,575 confirmed cases, 42,897 deaths, and 73,373 recoveries, the militant press is asking Donald Trump to demonstrate it.

Here in the Philippines, the senators are saying Health Secretary Francisco Duque has failed to provide leadership and should quit. There is not one word about President Rodrigo Duterte’s need to provide it.