I decided not to put it in the newspaper at the time, but his pronouncement stays with me, nearly three decades later. Speaking on Good Friday to a throng of people in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor remarked that “the body of Christ has AIDS.”
There wasn’t room for explanation in the two-hundred-twenty-word article I published on the cardinal’s three-hour meditation, and I didn’t want anyone turning the quote into a tabloid “O’C: Jesus Had AIDS.” But I still recall it as one of the better things O’Connor said during my days on the religion beat, coming at a time when he was under attack from angry, distraught activists who rallied against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Now it can be said that the body of Christ has COVID-19. Biology is renewing the lesson that there is neither Jew nor Greek, but rather one body that is only as healthy as its most ailing parts. Or, as St. Paul put it to the “nothings” of a diverse, messy, commercial-crossroads city called Corinth: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ Indeed, the parts of the body that seem weaker are all the more necessary.”
Likewise, the body can’t keep some of its parts from receiving health care, because “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” This is why the U.S. Catholic bishops have urged “adequate care for immigrants regardless of status,” as Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, head of the bishops’ committee on domestic justice, put it in a March 12 statement.
Since at least the 1990s, immigration opponents have been trying to limit government health-care support for immigrants, even for some who are in the United States legally. Belated recognition of the danger this poses came on March 13 when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued an alert saying that immigrants who receive government-supported treatment for coronavirus symptoms would not be penalized under the “public charge” rule. The Trump-administration version of this rule, which had taken effect six weeks before and remains under challenge in the courts, had been toughened to include non-cash medical assistance as one of the public benefits that could be used to determine whether an immigrant should be rejected as a likely public charge.