The Church as a "Field Hospital"

By Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, CM


Aside from the medical problems of COVID-19 that our experts find difficult to solve, we have the social problem of hunger and homelessness. The pictures of churches I share here have tried to respond to these issues the best they can. There are many examples of them in social media.

In a metaphor used by Pope Francis, these churches have transformed themselves into “field hospitals”. People are, in a way, wounded. We do not have all the scanners and big laboratories in the field. We do not have all the resources of a big hospital. But we need to treat the wounded.

Likewise, we do not have the budget and network of government agencies and international NGOs. But we need to feed the hungry. So, we turn our small churches into granaries and repacking stations, into makeshift tents so that the wounded can get food and find a temporary home.

Now is the time to feed the hungry. The rest of other ecclesial niceties and liturgical formalities can follow.

“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds… And you have to start from ground up.” (Pope Francis, September 19, 2013).

“We're beginning to see people who are hungry because they can't work. They may not have had a regular job, and from many other circumstances. We're beginning to see the aftermath that will come later. But it's beginning now. We pray for the families who are beginning to find themselves in need because of the pandemic”. (Pope Francis, March 28, 2020)

“At this moment in which everyone is supposed to be at home, may society, men and women, realize this reality and help them, and that the Church might welcome them.” (Pope Francis, March 30, 2020)

From the beginning of the lockdown, people – including priests and sisters – locked their churches and convents, and stopped seeing their flock. We hid in our homes for fear of our lives, and maybe reasonably so.

But because of this, we also do not see what happens beyond our walls, when people were running after relief vans, when they were frantically looking for milk for their babies, and risking their lives just to get whatever food for their tables. In this time, the church has become what Pope Francis feared it to be – a self-referential church concerned only with its own self-preservation.

The challenge for church leaders – the shepherds – is to be as close as possible to their people in these times of dire need like hunger, death and loneliness. Maybe physical nearness is even necessary so that people may feel that the Church – whom the priests and church lay leaders also represents – is there with them in these most difficult times of their lives. In concrete, these means learning:

1. How to overcome the climate of fear inculcated by dominant government media toward fostering the spirit of solidarity and meaningful presence among the flock who are beset by all kinds of fear, pain and hunger

2. How to go beyond formalistic, sanctioned and rubric-dictated liturgies toward creative worship beyond church walls and traditional liturgical rituals

3. How to combat the temptation of self-sufficiency and indifference toward organizing one’s parish community toward new and creative ministries among the poor and marginalized

4. How to enflesh Pope Francis’ challenge to pastors to have the “odor of the sheep”, especially in times when the sheep are confused, battered, grieving, hungry and lost.

5. How to make the Church real “field hospitals” when people around us are dying.

A meme on social media expresses this well: “Houses of worship are not essential but true worship is. “When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was thirsty did you give me a drink? When I was a stranger did you invite me in? When I was naked did you clothe me? When I was sick and imprison, did you visit me?”

The priests, pastors and church leaders need to be in solidarity with their flock even as they also fear for their own lives. If doctors and nurses need to be with their patients despite their fears as their profession requires them to do so, the priests and pastors must do the same. It is their calling to be with their people.

How this is done, church people have to creatively think beyond the “stay at home” protocols. They need to creatively transgress these injunctions when their flock needs them in these crucial times.

St. Vincent de Paul once said: “Love is inventive unto infinity.”

Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, C.M.
St Vincent SchoolofTheology
Adamson University