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  • Writer's pictureDavid OMalley

Corona virus and Don Bosco

It may seem a bit of a stretch to link corona virus to our Salesian history, but it is actually quite easy. In 1854 Cholera broke out in Northern Italy and in the summer of 1854, there were over 3000 cases in Genoa, not far from Turin. This was a feared disease with a 60% death rate and created panic across the region. The first deaths in Turin occurred on July 30th of that year and Turin went into a major emergency state. The source of the outbreak was close to Don Bosco’s oratory in Valdocco but very soon the whole city was infected.

Don Bosco took precautions in the oratory and school:

· Opened up windows

· Instituted regular cleaning regimes of all areas

· In the dormitory areas he opened up the spaces between the beds

· He set up a regular pattern of hand washing

· Began a pattern of regular prayer for the victims and those who were caring for them

At the end of the first week the local government made and appeal for help for “first aiders” who could deal with the thousands of cases emerging. The problem was that cholera is a messy disease involving fever vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration. People needed to be kept clean and given plenty of clean water to survive. The onset could be sudden, people were collapsing in the street. It was a mess, and a disgusting mess to deal with.

Don Bosco took action

On August 5th Don Bosco spoke to his older pupils and said that he would go and help as a first-aider in the city. Immediately 14 pupils offered to help him. The next day another 30 volunteered. Don Bosco organised three groups:

  1. One to support work in the hospitals

  2. One to visit self-isolated patients

  3. One to search the streets for cases or abandoned bodies.

Each of these teams worked in pairs and wore masks. Each pupil carried a bottle of vinegar to wash their hands with before and after touching and infected person. If they ran out of

vinegar, they had to return to the oratory immediately. The pupils also provided fresh linen to victims and burnt the old linen. Bed sheets became so scarce that Don Bosco’s mother, Margaret, stripped the cloths of the altars in church to provide clean sheets for the sick.

So, there in our own history is a model of how we might think about our own, far less dramatic epidemic in school settings:

· Opening up space between people to reduce cross contamination

· Regular cleaning of school

· Encouraging hand washing in pupils and in staff

· Staring a regular pattern of prayer for those who put themselves at risk in dealing with corona virus.

A prayer

Lord Jesus, you traveled through towns and villages curing every disease and illness

At your command, the sick were made well.

Come to our help now, as we face the global spread of the corona virus,

that we may all experience your healing love.

Heal those who are sick with the virus.

May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.

Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together

and neighbors from helping one another.

Heal us from our pride, and help us to recognise our weakness

as we work together against a disease that knows no borders. AMEN

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