French bishop: Fear the 'epidemic of fear' more than coronavirus

Belley Cathedral Credit Mathieu Digne via Wikimedia public domain Belley Cathedral in Belley, France. | Mathieu Digne via Wikimedia (public domain).

People should be more concerned about the epidemic of fear than the coronavirus outbreak, Bishop Pascal Roland of Belley-Ars has said.

"More than the epidemic of coronavirus, we should fear the epidemic of fear! For my part, I refuse to yield to the collective panic and to subject myself to the principle of precaution that seems to be moving the civil institutions,"  Bishop Roland wrote in a column at his diocesan website.

"So I don't intend to issue any specific instructions for my diocese. Are Christians going to stop gathering together for prayer? Will they give up going see and help their fellow man? Apart from measures of elementary prudence that everyone takes spontaneously to not contaminate others when you're sick, it's not advisable to add on more," he said.

Many Churches around the world have issued precautionary guidelines for Masses, or cancelled public Masses entirely, because of the coronavirus outbreak which originated in China late last year.

The new strain of coronavirus causes a respiratory disease, COVID-19, and has a fatality rate of roughly 3%. There have been more than 93,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in 81 countries, and nearly 3,200 deaths. The vast majority of cases and deaths have been in China.

France has had 212 confirmed cases, and four deaths.

Bishop Roland pointed out that during the great plagues of the past, Christians joined together in common prayer, ministered to the sick, attended the dying, and buried the dead. They did not turn away from God or their neighbor.

"Doesn't the collective panic we are witnessing today reveal our distorted relationship to the reality of death? Does it not manifest the anxiety-inducing effects of losing God?" he asked.

Bishop Roland said that "we want to hide from ourselves the fact that we're mortal, and having closed off the spiritual dimension of our life, we're losing ground. Because we have more and more sophisticated and efficient techniques available, we claim to master everything and we obscure the fact that we're not the masters of life!"

Coronavirus is an occasion to "remind ourselves of our human fragility," the French bishop noted, saying that "this global crisis at least has the advantage of reminding ourselves that we live in a common home and that we're all vulnerable and interdependent and that it's more urgent to cooperate than to close our borders!"

The bishop observed that "it seems we've all lost our minds! And in any case we're living in a lie. Why suddenly focus our attention on just the coronavirus?"

He pointed out that in France the ordinary seasonal flu sickens 2-6 million people, and causes about 8,000 deaths.

Continuing, the bishop said that he has no intention of ordering "churches to be closed, Masses to be canceled, eliminating the sign of peace at the Eucharist, or imposing such and such a way of receiving Communion reputed to be more hygienic (that said, everyone can do as they want!) because the church is not a place at risk, but a place of health. It's a place where we welcome the one who is Life, Jesus Christ, and where through him, with him and in him we together learn to be the living. A church has to remain what it is: a place of hope!"

The Bishop of Belley-Ars asked, "Should you shut yourself up at home? Should you raid the neighborhood supermarket to stock up on reserves to prepare for a siege? No! Because a Christian doesn't fear death. He's not unaware that he's mortal, but he knows in whom he has placed his trust."

"And a Christian doesn't belong to himself, his life is given, because he follows Jesus Christ who teaches 'For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.'"

"So let's not give in to the epidemic of fear! Let's not be the living dead! As Pope Francis would say: don't let them steal your hope!" Bishop Roland concluded.

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