The Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Reverend John Wilson, looked to a lasting expression of gratitude and thanks to NHS and care staff who have battled COVID-19 over recent months. That approach, he said, would involve upholding the dignity of workers and resourcing healthcare for the long-term:
“Our gratitude has been expressed in some powerfully poignant ways: households out clapping on our streets; messages of support; posters and signs of appreciation. But our thanks ring hollow if we fail to value our NHS, emergency, and social care staff in ways that are tangible and enduring. Making sure they are properly funded and resourced, and treated with dignity and respect, these are the real ways we can say ‘thank you.’ We are so grateful for everyone’s contribution, not forgetting those from other countries who help ensure our hospitals, clinics, surgeries and care facilities are fit for purpose.”
Archbishop Wilson was preaching at a special Mass in St George’s Cathedral for the sick and their families, as well as NHS front-line workers and those working in Social Care.
What extraordinary times we have lived through these past few months, unlike anything else we have witnessed in our lifetime. Covid-19 brought the day to day life of our country to a standstill. Our streets became silent and our roads virtually empty. Quite rightly, we were instructed to remain indoors. But an army of medical, emergency, and care staff, of keyworkers and essential service providers, marched out to defend us from an infectious and deadly enemy.
At the start of lockdown the essential advice was ‘stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.’ We needed to allow our health service to prepare for the worst. Yet, in reality, everyone in the NHS protected us, working with emergency services and key workers, and with care staff who continued to look after our elderly and infirm loved ones.
Restrictions are now beginning to be relaxed; but we are far from back to normal and must remain cautious. We each carry a personal and communal responsibility for staying alert, for controlling the virus, and for saving lives, especially those of the most vulnerable.
What an enormous debt of gratitude we owe to everyone in the NHS, in the emergency services, and in social care, at all levels. To each one of them we want to say an immense and sincere ‘thank you.’ You have put yourselves at risk by serving selflessly, for the good of others and the good of our nation.
Our gratitude has been expressed in some powerfully poignant ways: households out clapping on our streets; messages of support; posters and signs of appreciation. But our thanks ring hollow if we fail to value our NHS, emergency, and social care staff in ways that are tangible and enduring. Making sure they are properly funded and resourced, and treated with dignity and respect, these are the real ways we can say ‘thank you.’ We are so grateful for everyone’s contribution, not forgetting those from other countries who help ensure our hospitals, clinics, surgeries and care facilities are fit for purpose.
The Gospel tells us that the Lord Jesus sent out His disciples asking them to speak words of peace, to cure the sick, and to proclaim the nearness of God’s kingdom. Something similar has been happening during the pandemic. Through the care of the sick and suffering, in the backs of ambulances, beside hospital beds, in nursing and care homes, the values of God’s kingdom have been brought to life. Love has been made real in the most critical circumstances and in the most compassionate ways.
Just think of medical staff who nurse the dangerously ill, exhausting themselves trying to ‘cure the sick.’ Think of all the support staff who make front-line care possible. Think of so much generous self-sacrifice, given without hesitation to complete strangers. Thousands upon thousands of NHS staff offer words, gestures, and faces of peaceful reassurance, as they adjust a ventilator, serve a meal, or clean a ward. The kingdom of God is brought close through people who love others, whether by means of their skills and expertise, their sensitive comforting, or their dedicated care.
So much of ordinary life has been taken over by PPE – Personal Protective Equipment – and by social distancing. How important to remember that God is not distant, but comes close to us in His Son Jesus Christ. There are no barriers to God’s love, even when we experience the sting of the cross in our own lives or the lives of those we love.
In St Paul’s words nothing – nothing in life and nothing in death – nothing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord. This truth sheds light into our darkest moments. This truth brings hope, even in our tragedies. In sickness and suffering, Christ is with us. In grief and loss, Christ is with us. In the fatigue of serving others, Christ is with us. Whatever happens, Christ will never abandon us. He is with us. He is for us. He is on our side.
No one has known the love of God in Christ as intimately as His Mother Mary. She carried Him in her womb. She watched Him grow from childhood. She saw fulfilled the promises made to her about Him. She stood by Him at the crucifixion. Mary knows the obstacles that can test our faith. But she gives perfect witness that nothing can separate us from the love of God made real in Christ.
From deep within, Our Lady knows the power of divine love, a love that defeated death, a love that rose again. With maternal care she understands the trials we face, through which we can triumph by the power of Him who loves us, who loves you.
As a Mother of Sorrows, Mary prays for us, sharing our pain and distress. As a Mother of Consolation, a Mother of Unfailing Help, we ask her heavenly intercession: for those who are sick; for those who have died; for those who grieve; for our NHS, emergency and social care workers; for all who serve our brothers and sisters who suffer illness, infirmity, or disability.
Dear friends, nothing can separate us from the love of God made visible in Christ our Lord. Our faith is founded on this love, a love that will not let us go. In Christ every sorrow leads to joy. In Christ the cross leads to the resurrection. In Christ we have a hope that all will be well.
May the love of Christ be made visible through each one of us in service of health and wellbeing for every human life. Amen
✠ John Wilson
Archbishop of Southwark