Special times call for special forms of closeness

Videco call

At the present time, one objective prevails in our society: to reduce the number of victims of the coronavirus, a seemingly banal cold virus that is responsible for roughly 220,000 deaths worldwide as of 29 April 2020. In order to limit the impact of this deadly pandemic, a huge extra effort is demanded of everyone in our society, and not only of people working in the care sector. This includes, among other things, the voluntary production of face masks, grocery shopping for those at higher risk, child care. Solidarity and charitable action are the new norms in these times. Or should be.

The most effective way to limit the impact of the coronavirus is physically separating oneself from one’s fellow human beings. The clinical effectiveness of this strategy has already been proven in countries such as South Korea and Singapore, and the first effects can also be observed in Belgium, but this effectiveness comes at a high cost: it causes an exponential increase in loneliness, which is felt hardest by the most vulnerable members of society.

Message in the window of the Remy care home: "WE MISS U".
Message in the window of the Remy care home: “WE MISS U”.
All those who already are socially isolated are more than ever excluded from participating in our society by the measures imposed. Think of the sick and the elderly, with whom visits are no longer allowed. Think of the poor, the homeless, and refugees, for whom every contact with social workers is reduced to a minimum. They are out in the cold even more than before.
Moreover, there is abundant scientific evidence that it is precisely for this vulnerable group of people that imposed social deprivation has a negative impact on their general well-being and leads to more depression, anxiety, and even death. From day one of the corona-crisis, the Community of Sant’Egidio, an international Catholic lay movement, has been calling on its members to fight against these effects of physical distancing. Marco Impagliazzo, President of Sant’Egidio, wrote from Rome in a letter to all its local communities: “It is time to love one another through overcoming the cold of social distancing and bringing warmth to lonely and vulnerable people.
Rainbow Painting
In Leuven, our Sant’Egidio community immediately responded to this call. Our weekly visit to the residents of the hard-hit Edouard Remy care home and all our related activities, such as our monthly celebration of the Eucharist, our celebration of birthdays together, etc., were halted for the first time in seven years. Our entire community was called upon to not leave our elderly friends out in the cold. And with great success!
Skyping with Marcia
Skyping with Marcia

On a regular basis, we show our friends that they are not alone in these times of corona. Cards, letters, and drawings are sent three times a week. And young and old contact each other at regular intervals through phone calls and video messages via WhatsApp or Skype, to speak encouraging words to each other. The joyful reactions of the residents are hard to put into words.


In addition to these initiatives, there are Sant’Egidio’s daily evening prayer and weekly Eucharistic celebration, which are broadcast online from the church of the same name in the Roman neighborhood of Trastevere. This helps us to stay spiritually and humanly connected throughout this pandemic.

All these efforts aim to reduce the number of those suffering from loneliness. After all, corona already claims enough victims.

For information about Sant’Egidio-Leuven, contact Els Verlinden: els.verlinden@live.be.

The photos of residents Jeanne, Marcia, Wladimir, and Anita are from the Facebook page of WZC Edouard Remy: https://www.facebook.com/woonzorgcentrumEdouardRemy/.