Geoffrey Karabin, a professor of philosophy, has published a collection of 19 essays that examine the relationship between St. Francis of Assisi, his embrace of lepers, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
St. Francis is one of the most enduring of saints, recognized by the Catholic Church as the patron of animals and the environment. Because he lived and ministered during a leprosy pandemic and publicly embraced a leper (someone who was shunned by society), St. Francis serves as a source of insight about the contemporary reaction to COVID.
The collection asks whether his actions stand as a critique of the recent pandemic response or whether he exhibited a harmful form of religious devotion, perhaps fanaticism, by exposing himself and others to a lethal pathogen?
Karabin’s collection, titled Pandemic Reflections, brings together some of the world's leading Franciscan scholars to explore the moral and social implications of Francis' action. The book examines a highly visible and impactful religious figure with the intent of bringing him into conversation about one of the defining issues of the early 21st century.
“The concept of the book is the product of conversations in my ethics classes here at Neumann,” explains Karabin. “The nativity scene, the leper scene, the sultan – what do they mean in the contemporary world? Francis in the context of the pandemic became more fascinating to me. One of his iconic acts and one that was central to his conversion was his embrace not just of a single leper but of lepers more generally.”
Once his book proposal was accepted by Ethics Press, Karabin reached out to other scholars through a general call for papers and targeted invitations to those who had written about Francis and the lepers before. He divided the essays into four categories: the historical Francis, contemporary reaction, followers of Francis (those living out the vocation), and theological reflections.
“The central theme of the book,” he says, “is that there’s a certain Franciscan sensitivity associated with loss, with the suffering of the pandemic – directly in terms of the virus and what we gave up in order to combat the virus.”
Essays include Franciscan Fanaticism? by Geoffrey Karabin; COVID-19 from a Franciscan Perspective by William Short, OFM; Brother Francis and Those Suffering from Leprosy by Jean-Francois Godet-Calogeras; The Bitter and the Sweet by Anthony M. Carrozzo, OFM; Rehumanizing the Other by Heidi Giebel; Molokai: In the Shadow of Death by Suzanne Mayer, IHM; and Justice and Mercy Over Exclusion and Isolation by Maureen Day.
Colleague John Kruse, a theology professor at Neumann, believes that the essays in Pandemic Reflections “can lead the post-COVID world to its own conversion, one in which humanity does not return to ‘normal’ but instead is moved by compassion to develop a greater sense of solidarity with the suffering, the forgotten, and the marginalized.”
Karabin describes the experience of publishing his first book as “the greatest blessing of my professional life” in terms of understanding Francis and the complexity of his mission at a deeper level. “Being connected to some of the important figures in the Franciscan world and the ability to learn from them was rewarding.”
Pandemic Reflections was published on September 27, 2023. It is available from Ethics Press.