Our City Needs to Heal. Churches Can Help.
By Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Dr. Ramon Tallaj
WE ARE LIVING in dark, uncertain times. New York City’s diverse communities of color have been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed 17,000 lives and caused more than 2 million people to lose their jobs. Plus, in the past several weeks, tragedies borne out of racism and injustice have spurred widespread demonstrations, with hundreds of thousands in New York City marching in unison and calling for change. New Yorkers are hurting. They are in pain. Even as our city slowly begins to reopen and recover, our communities are scarred.
As the leader of the local Catholic Church and as an immigrant doctor serving low-income communities of color, we have spent decades walking at the side of our people, especially when they are most vulnerable. We see them. We hear them. We understand them. We are ready to help our communities heal.
Faith institutions across our city are essential for restoring hope in hard-hit communities and fostering a spirit of healing and unity. Our places of worship avoid politics, focusing instead on the essence of human dignity. This is what we do best—it is our calling. It reflects Pope Francis’ call to see God “in every person who is marginalized.”
Healthcare is a basic human right. But, for far too long, immigrant neighborhoods and communities of color have been confronted with systemic barriers to care, which has left them vulnerable and underserved. We have seen the effects of this vast disparity between health care for the rich and health care for the poor. Our doctors and priests have witnessed the heavy burdens and anxieties of the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, the situation has only been exacerbated by the pandemic and the social unrest of recent weeks.
Testing remains a critical need for the city’s underserved immigrant and minority communities. We must do all we can to prevent another surge in infections. As people begin to seek safe haven at reopened churches in their communities, access to testing on church grounds will be essential for their well-being as well as that of our priests and other essential Church staff.
The members of these poor communities have unique needs, but often fear and a lack of trust has kept them from seeking help at medical institutions or putting their fate in the hands of government entities. As honest brokers we must ensure all our people have access to vital resources and services, among which is testing for the virus. But access to testing has been a challenge for the poor. We are rectifying that situation.
The data show that the number of deaths and COVID-19 infection rates are highest in New York’s lowest-income, multicultural communities; and research shows that the pandemic is a major threat to the health and finances of Hispanics in particular. We must come to their aid.
As our doctors are committed to treating the weary and sick among the most vulnerable, so our churches are beacons of hope. Our places of worship serve as a reminder of the great spiritual purpose of humankind, and they offer a platform for our priests to bring about spiritual healing.
Together, we mirror Jesus’s ministry, as he healed both people’s bodily and spiritual maladies.Together, we can piece together our brokenness and, with God’s help, begin the healing process. Our churches and our doctors stand at the ready. Together, let us rebuild and come back stronger than before.
His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan was named archbishop of New York by Pope Benedict XVI. He was installed April 15, 2009.Dr. Ramon Tallaj is the Chairman of SOMOS Community Care, a non-profit, physician-led network of more than 2,500 health-care providers, serving more than 800,000 patients.