Five people. If you or a loved one dies at this time in the state of Rhode Island, that’s the limit on how many people will be at any gathering for prayer for the eternal rest of the person who has died. “It doesn’t have to be that way,” Father Marcel Taillon, pastor of St. Thomas More Church and St. Veronica Chapel in Narragansett, RI, says in a video directed at Governor Gina Raimondo. Standing in his vast empty church, he points to neighboring states where as many as 25 and 50 can gather, obeying social-distancing protocols.
“Five is too low . . . It’s just too small . . . In the name of these families, it so excruciating and it doesn’t need to be this way . . . The grieving families are the most hurting families and because of the pandemic have been especially burdened.” Deciding which family members can be at a funeral is just too painful, he says, begging for an immediate change so no one else has to needlessly suffer in this way.
He offered that the change would be an exercise in hope, something we all could use right now. And especially people who lose loved ones at this time. “It’s just too hard for people,” Fr. Taillon says.
Fr. Taillon notes that he first made the video available privately to the governor’s staff, but after a week was told that she had not changed her mind and posted it on Facebook Sunday.
With all respect, he assures the governor he prays for her daily, and reminds her, too, that Rhode Island’s motto is the virtue of hope, thanks to its founder, Roger Williams, a Christian minister, who took it from a line in Hebrews about being anchored in hope. At a time when life and death are in the forefront of our daily life like no other time in many of our contemporary lives, Fr. Taillon reminds of us perhaps what we might try to escape — the mortality check the pandemic and all of our social distancing and quarantine practices are about. Some do not have that luxury.
Hope is not a good feeling, but a virtue and an orientation of our lives. If we came to know that we would be judged on what we deemed essential during this time, I wonder if we would do things differently. Churches are essential. Clergy are essential. We’re going to argue about that, it seems, but don’t when it comes to people who are dying at this time, from COVID-19 or anything else. It’s too painful, it’s also a scandal. I understand why people made some rash decisions, but as we reconsider things now, getting people help in their grief is clearly essential and cruel not to remedy.