What Saints to Call on in a Pandemic

“Redemption preserves itself in a small crack 
in the continuum of catastrophe.” ~ Walter Benjamin*

Besides St. Sebastian— famously pierced
with a quiver of arrows, tied to a post 
and abandoned for dead then miraculously
nursed back to life— what other saints 

can we call on in these pandemic times? 
Some people think he was kind of a whore 
for suffering: as soon as he was well, 
he went right back with redoubled zeal 

to the same emperor who ordered his
execution. In Palermo, one of cities
hardest hit by the coronavirus and still
on lockdown, the people prayed to Santa

Rosalia and carried her bones in 
procession through the streets, 
bringing an end to the plague of 1624. 
She'd lived in seclusion for decades,

shunning the world's vanities, alone 
in a cave on Mount Pellegrino. No
parties on a Florida beach at spring
break. Not even choir rehearsals 

in church. Then there's St. Roch, 
described in stories as born with 
the mark of a red cross on his chest— 
I wonder if it was a port wine stain 

or hemangioma. Traveling through 
plague-infested towns, miraculously 
he cured the sick with his cross. 
His name reminds me of Dwayne 

"The Rock" Johnson, who plays Dr. 
Smolder Bravestone in Jumanji:
Welcome to the Jungle— not exactly  
a world beset by pandemic, though all

the characters face one natural 
calamity after another. Body bags
keep filling trucks and sidewalks.
Mayors and doctors go on TV every

night, pleading with people to stay
home to flatten the curve. Sebastian,
Rosalia, Roch: the Book of Saints
names that moment when the deadly 

cycle breaks, a miracle. Not 
hyssop nor sage nor cordial water. 
Not turning to calculating profit 
over PPEs, masks, and respirators. 

* Thanks to Peter Stephens for bringing the passage to my attention.

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