By Sister Mary Haddad, president and CEO, Catholic Health Association

Without a doubt, 2020 will be remembered as the year of COVID-19, the greatest public health crisis in our lifetime. Hopefully, as we look back on the year and grieve the loss of so many, we will begin to have a more profound understanding that regardless of our racial or ethnic heritage, our religious or political beliefs, or our socioeconomic status, we all are bound together in a shared experience. COVID-19, if nothing else, has served as a vivid reminder that our lives are profoundly connected and that we are interdependent with all of creation.

As Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, we are acutely aware of how the coronavirus has exposed the many injustices and inequities that for far too long have plagued our countries. We know that COVID-19 has disproportionately afflicted people of color, migrants, those who are homeless and the frail elderly. As a religious community, we have raised our voices for the vulnerable and called for solidarity and equity in our response to this global pandemic.

At Catholic Health Association (CHA), I am proud that we have been at the forefront of the national discussion about the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. In July, 2020, we issued our Vaccine Equity and Catholic Principles for the Common Good guidelines.  The core principles outlined in the document were that vaccines should be safe and ethically tested, scientifically effective, respect human dignity and distributed with priority to those most at risk. After the release of the guidelines, CHA was asked to provide input to the National Academy of Sciences’ COVID-19 Distribution Framework, which adopted many of our core principles. As the vaccine is being rolled out, we are seeing priority being given to frontline caregivers and the medically vulnerable, such as residents of nursing homes. We will continue to advocate for distributive justice in the weeks and months ahead.

In my role at CHA, I have been in daily contact with Catholic healthcare leaders from across the country and heard from them about the many challenges they and their colleagues have faced caring for COVID patients. I have also heard inspiring stories about the many sacrifices that caregivers are making for their patients and loved ones. The response to the pandemic by those of us serving in Catholic health care and social services has only reaffirmed our commitment to the ethical and equitable treatment of all people as we work to bring Christ’s healing to our broken world.

It is for this reason that I start 2021 with a sense of hope. The history of our religious community is replete with stories of commitment and sacrifice as compassionate care was indiscriminately provided during times of great need. Today, we continue that same mission to serve the needs of poor and vulnerable persons at the margins of society. We believe that each life is sacred, that all share in the common good and that we have a responsibility to ensure a preferential option for those who are economically poor and marginalized. As we emerge from this global health crisis, we have a unique opportunity to recommit our lives to these Gospel values.

While we have risen to the call to care for the least among us during this past year, we have so much more to do in 2021. May this new year fill our world with mercy and compassion as we strive for a just transformation of all our communities.