Diocesan Social Action Director Kent Ferris was choked up as he described the pain some staff and volunteers have experienced as they struggled to help loved ones, frontline and essential workers, in the bullseye of COVID-19. Some struggled because of language barriers or lack of Internet access to register for a vaccination slot, Ferris said during a Catholic Cares video conference earlier this summer.
Catholic Cares is a coalition of more than 50 U.S.-based Catholic organizations, the Dioceses of Davenport and Sioux City among them, committed to promoting COVID-19 vaccine acceptance and equity. The coalition formed earlier this year to “maximize members’ influence and to support various grassroots efforts on vaccine equity and distribution,” the coalition’s website states. Catholic Cares taps into the Catholic perspective and resources of its coalition members to address three essential goals:
• Leverage communication channels and resources to share consistent information about the importance of accepting a COVID-19 vaccine when available.
• Provide human, spiritual and pastoral support for individuals struggling to understand, affirm and act on Catholic social teaching, including the teachings of Pope Francis and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
•Advocate for the equitable distribution of the vaccine in the U.S. and globally.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has awarded a $100,000 grant to Catholic Cares to be used over six months to support the coalition’s goals. Some of that funding will be distributed as microgrants for coalition members to use on short-term communications initiatives that utilize digital media to disseminate fact-based information on the vaccines from local influencers.
Ferris and Deacon Frank Agnoli, who represent the Davenport Diocese on Catholic Cares, are striving through their communication channels to ensure that all people, especially the most vulnerable among us, are able to receive the vaccine for the well-being of all.
Already, the Social Action Office has collaborated with local departments of health and several parishes in communities with larger Spanish-speaking populations to offer pop-up vaccine clinics. More of these initiatives are necessary, particularly in sparsely populated rural areas where people may be in denial about the ramifications of infection.
Conflicting messages from media outlets and even some healthcare providers, along with frustration over the ongoing pandemic, are simply prolonging the grip of the tenacious, nondiscriminatory virus across the globe. The people most at risk of harm from illness are those who can least afford the consequences — lost work, lost health and, in some cases, lost lives.
Bishop Thomas Zinkula, in a July 30 statement, reminds us that “Pope Francis has said that vaccination is not simply a matter of personal health; it is part of our responsibility as Catholics for the common good. The Church also has made it clear that the COVID vaccines are morally acceptable.”
Some people hesitate to receive the vaccine because they worry it might not be safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that millions of people in the U.S. have received COVID-19 vaccines since the FDA authorized them for emergency use. “These vaccines have undergone and will continue to undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history,” the CDC says. Some common side effects such as swelling, redness and pain at the injection site, headache, tiredness and muscle pain may occur. However, serious side effects are extremely unlikely (https://tinyurl.com/x9ubbar8).
All of us ought to be Catholics who care by stopping the spread of disinformation and misinformation, encouraging vaccination, and reaching out to persons who need assistance in obtaining the vaccine. We cannot allow the lives of people just like us, made in God’s image, to be treated like collateral damage as we debate mandates, masks and the value of vaccination.
We are Catholics who care when we choose to receive news about the virus and the vaccine from a credible, unbiased resource: our Diocese of Davenport website (davenportdiocese.org/flu). Ferris and Agnoli have expressed concern for weeks about the Delta variant of COVID-19, which has caused a significant spike in illness. We can end the spread of suffering by focusing on the common good that comes with vaccination, exercising our freedom to choose community before self, as Jesus instructed. No man is an island; we depend on one another to survive and thrive.
For additional information about the Catholic Cares vaccination efforts and to learn more about the microgrant program, go to www.catholiccares.org or send an email to CatholicOrgs4Vaccination@gmail.com.
Another organization that cares, the University of Iowa Prevention Research Center for Rural Health, has announced two funding opportunities to implement strategies that ensure increased equity and access to COVID-19 vaccines and/or related services. Eligible applicants include nonprofit organizations, for-profit organizations, tribal organizations or governmental entities registered or incorporated to do business in the United States. For both grants, an applicant may apply for any amount up to $250,000. Go to (https://tinyurl.com/3pn6xjux) for more information.
Finally, pray for an end to the divisions that get in the way of us working together as Catholics who care.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor