It’s hard to hear about the rising number of deaths that each day of the coronavirus pandemic brings. It will take a long time for us to fully comprehend the tragic events of these weeks. Right now, we are still submerged in them, and perhaps cannot see the forest for the trees.
At the same time, we’re experiencing the good mystery that, within a difficult scenario of suffering and death, the spark of life continues to burn. The two opposing trends don’t cancel each other out, just as births do not make us forget the dead; if anything they increase the intensity of our awareness. We realize that our “being here” is a fragile but precious gift.
A few days ago in Frattaminore, a town in southern Italy, a small but extraordinary event happened—an unusual birth that brought hope to some of those put to the test by the emergency of COVID-19: emergency telephone operators. Among incessant requests for help for coronavirus-related health emergencies, an operator named Ilaria answered a different call: a message from a panicked father, Alfonso.
As Ciro De Liddo reports on the website of the Italian news outlet Il Meridiano News, Alfonso’s wife Maria was in full labor, but still at home. They had waited at home as long as possible, so as not to overload the medical staff, who were busy with the epidemic including a sanitizing process that was happening at the hospital due to a suspected case of COVID-19. Because of this process, the Emergency Room was closed, so when Maria’s water broke at 4 a.m., Alfonso called the emergency phone number.
Right away Ilaria sent an ambulance to the family home, but it took a few minutes to arrive. Since the situation was already urgent, she guided Alfonso over the phone with instructions to help his wife give birth at home. Everything happened quickly and thankfully had a great outcome. Maria needed little assistance with a process as old as humanity, but assisting and facilitating are far from unimportant; they require us to be fully involved, ready and willing.
Alfonso may have thought he would have to leave his wife alone in the delivery room because of the emergency medical measures; instead, he found himself at the center of a scene that would usually be handled by more qualified professionals. Certainly, Ilaria couldn’t have imagined having to set up suddenly an unusual telephone-based delivery room. But unexpected circumstances brought two strangers together in a close-knit team. Baby Lorenzo was born in the early morning of March 22, while his brother Maurizio slept peacefully in his room.
The ambulance team, once on site, found the proud father cutting the umbilical cord. Once they determined that all had gone well, they took Maria and baby Lorenzo to a nearby hospital for followup care. Fortunately, there were no complications, and the family is now reunited at home.
All the protagonists of this story, which refreshes our sorrowful hearts, were featured on an Italian TV show, and Maria and Alfonso thanked Ilaria for her help by means of a video conference. They saw each other’s faces for the first time, even if not in person, but it meant a lot to see each other’s smiles and say thank you.
Newborn Lorenzo slept peacefully in the arms of his mother Maria, unaware of his moment in the spotlight. When he grows up, no doubt he’ll be told the story a thousand times. Perhaps he’ll want to know every last detail, and even meditate—as I am doing—on how a small life may face many dangers, yet can come in the midst of a pandemic, even if the hospital is closed.
I think, too, of Mary and Joseph. Joseph must have done his best to assist Mary, probably by himself; the Gospel does not mention any other attendant. The supreme moment of birth, even that of the Son of God, rarely goes according to plan.
Today, like Ilaria, we must be ready to receive a daily “phone call” asking us to collaborate in God’s plan, marked by the seal of life. Like Alfonso, we must be present, even if hesitant and afraid, to accompany those close to us to fulfill their destiny.
The domestic setting of this event shows that our homes, more than ever, can contain the inspiration with which God helps us—and will continue to help us—to remain faithful even during a fatal pandemic. We don’t need to do sensational things to save the world; we just need to do our best right where we are.
A father took on the role of a midwife; a stranger was ready to reassure him and accompany him; a mother let her body do what it was designed to do; and a peaceful little brother was sleeping in his room. Everyone has a place and a task. Let us discover and welcome ours with simplicity.