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Even if coronavirus takes us from one another, death does not have the last word — Hosffman Ospino

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U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams tours a clinical room at Camillus House shelter for the homeless in Miami, during a visit to South Florida July 23, 2020. The surgeon general received a detailed tour of Camillus House and Camillus Health Concern in Miami and led conversations with community leaders about the pandemic and the community's care for the homeless population during the pandemic. (CNS photo/Tom Tracy)

By Hosffman Ospino

No, I am not saying farewell. I do not plan to stop writing this column any time soon. As long as there are unsettled questions about faith, life and culture, and readers willing to engage them, we will journey together.

Hosffman Ospino
Hosffman Ospino is a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College. (CNS photo/Lee Pellegrini, Boston College)

However, the present moment, defined by a pandemic and a growing awareness about disturbing dynamics in our society that cut human lives short, demands that we talk about farewells, and do so with Catholic faith.

In just a few months of physical distancing, remote working — a privilege many do not enjoy — and virtual interactions, the world has changed dramatically. There are questions we cannot avoid: Will I see my relatives, friends and colleagues in person again? Will I shake their hands or hug them again?

I do not want to sound dramatic. Yet, there is a growing number of instances in my personal and professional circles when the answer to these questions is already no. I am learning to live with that.

Hundreds of thousands of people have died worldwide during this pandemic, leaving families and friends wrestling with their incomprehensible absence. In many cases, there was no time to say farewell. Numerous families still await for some closure through ritual whenever the time comes.

The fact that in the U.S. minoritized communities are contracting the virus and dying at scandalously disproportionate rates compared to the larger white population begs serious reflection and action.

I could not say goodbye in person to my students who completed their programs this past spring and summer. Some already moved on. Perhaps life will bring us together again. Perhaps not.

As we start a new academic year, some of my colleagues, students and friends will not return physically. Others will not return at all. Friends who worked in Catholic schools, parishes and organizations are gone. Some lost their jobs. Others moved onto something else. Some died. Their absence signals a new reality.

In conversation with several Hispanic immigrant families in my parish, I learned that many journey with heavy heart at realizing that reuniting with their loved ones in their countries of origin may not be a possibility in the near future, perhaps never again.

I understand and stand in solidarity with them. My elderly parents live in another country about 2,600 miles away from Boston. No travel plans in sight. We speak regularly, yet we have come to terms with the fact that between the uncertainty of the present and the natural cycles of life, anything can happen.

This is a special time for us to model saying farewell with Catholic faith.

We can learn much from Latin American Catholic families saying farewell to someone departing on a border-crossing journey. They may not see this person again. The family gathers, prays and eats together. They laugh and cry while celebrating life. They place their trust in God, Mary and the saints. The sojourner is not alone. Neither those left behind.

This is a perfect time to revisit our Catholic convictions about the communion of saints. We exist in communion with a God who journeys with us in history and with all already called into eternal life. Even if we do not see each other physically again, death does not have the last word. We remain united in prayer, especially eucharistic prayer.

Saying farewell with a sense of communion is reassuring. We partake of the communion of those who love God and love others in God. Authentic love engenders permanent communion. It is such conviction that moves us to say with some confidence: Farewell, I love you. See you soon, maybe.

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Hosffman Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.