Kerry Alys Robinson

The healing mandate of the Gospel

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Being married to an infectious disease specialist and global epidemiologist meant my experience of lockdown was a full immersion into the intricacies of COVID-19. It’s been a long two years, but thanks to my daily conversation partner I have learned a lot about science, disease, transmission, vaccinations, and healthcare. One thing is crystal clear: we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those healthcare workers all over the world who never hesitated to do the right thing, even when it required courage, selflessness, tenacity and sacrifice.

My husband became a doctor at the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, when so little was known about the transmission and treatment of this novel, deadly and stigmatizing infection. Even then there were some, frequently nurses, who instinctively stepped forward to care for patients testing HIV positive despite real or imagined personal risk.

Contemplating these pandemics was the perfect context to read two engaging and inspiring books in tandem.

The first is Michael O’Loughlin’s beautiful depiction of the church’s complex and complicated history with HIV/AIDS, “Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear.” And the second is “CARE: How People of Faith Can Respond to our Broken Health System,” by Rev. G. Scott Morris, MD. Both authors are friends of mine.

I asked Michael what surprised him most while he was researching the history of the church’s response to HIV/AIDS and writing his book. He said, “I was struck by the way the Gospels inspired the many priests, sisters and lay Catholics I interviewed to respond to HIV and AIDS with mercy and compassion when it would have been far easier to do nothing. The shame and stigma that accompanied HIV in the ’80s and ’90s was intense and perpetuated by every sector of society, including the church, yet many Catholics saw in their faith a call to heal. They answered that call with love, even when their own reputations and vocations were put at risk.”

This insight is shared with passionate conviction by Scott Morris, a United Methodist minister and physician, who founded Church Health in Memphis, Tennessee, to serve the working uninsured population in one of the poorest cities in the country. Church Health has grown into the largest faith-based, charitably funded clinic in the United States.

“The church doesn’t get a pass from carrying out the healing mandate of the Gospel,” Scott Morris reminds me. “If we want to be Christ-like, we are called to preach, teach and heal. How many of our faith communities take seriously the healing ministry to which Christians are called?” 

Scott makes the point in his book that “COVID-19 focused an unexpected lens on faith and health. The question for us now is whether we take this crisis and create a new response to the pain and suffering of the world.” 

This sounds a lot like the invitation Pope Francis has given us to dream a better future, where care of one another and our common home is central to how we emerge from the pandemic.

I confess to being in awe and deeply grateful for the people who show up every day to provide medical attention, healing, care, reassurance, comfort and compassion to those who are ill and suffering. Theirs is an act of vocational service deeply rooted in the Gospel, often performed with breathtaking humility and selflessness. Today would be a good day to learn from the example of the healthcare workers and healers in our midst and emulate their quiet mercy as a sign of how much God loves humankind.



  • health care
  • covid-19