“Mario is genuinely one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” How often do tenants speak like that about their landlord? But then Mario Salerno is an unusual kind of landlord. He owns 80 apartments in Brooklyn, from which this month he will receive precisely zero dollars’ rent. Last week his 200 tenants found a note pinned up by their apartments, encouraging them to “Stay safe, help your neighbours and wash your hands”, and informing them that due to the coronavirus pandemic, he would be waiving payments for April.
Cameras from the Catholic news channel EWTN followed Salerno into his office, which had a kind of ramshackle neatness, the surfaces crammed with packages, wine bottles, toiletries and hi-vis jackets, the walls decorated with pictures of the Sacred Heart, Padre Pio and Our Lady of Guadalupe. “My Catholic faith brought it upon me to make this decision,” Salerno explained. “At the end of my journey, when I go and meet the dear Lord and the dear master, I want to ask Him before he could ask me: ‘Was I good? How was my faith?’ ”
It was a little glimpse of what, in truth, is happening everywhere. The cover of this week’s magazine depicts a doctor in Lombardy, speaking with a woman whose mother has Covid-19 symptoms. But she isn’t just a doctor: she is Sister Angel Bipendu, a religious originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She has previously worked against the Ebola epidemic – coronavirus is a less desperate task, she says, because the Italian government has done so much to help its people – and in caring for migrants who have crossed the Mediterranean. “We are all afraid,” she told local media, “but I asked the Lord to give me strength because the sick need me.”
All over the world, Catholic individuals and organisations are sacrificing their time, their money, their security to help at this moment of peril. From Spain to South Korea, nuns have changed their regulation manual work to become manufacturers of face masks. In Lima, the Church is handing out food baskets by the tens of thousands. At the Bethany Convent in West Bengal, nuns give out essential supplies to laid-off workers. In Filipino dioceses, “kindness stations” offer food and medical advice. In Syria, the Order of Malta is repairing the sanitation facilities in refugee camps. The list could be expanded to fill every page of this magazine. And what motivates it? Mother Teresa was asked that question of her own work. She would take the questioner’s hand and count off a word on each finger, quoting the words Jesus will speak at the Last Judgment: “You – did – it – to – me.”
Of course, it’s not just Catholics who are helping. Everywhere, mutual aid communities are forming, people are doing extraordinary deeds, taking extraordinary risks, to help their fellow human. But when we see acts of charity motivated by the love of God, there is a special light that shines through them, which reminds us of the hope that endures and points towards the Resurrection. A very happy Easter to all our readers.