The Importance of Charity in Times of Chaos

May 21, 2020

The renowned Catholic thinker and activist, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, once said, “In times of great crisis there are two types of men; those who are overwhelmed by the crisis and those who rise up to resist the trend of events and so change the course of history.” Currently, America is experiencing a crisis.  The media’s reporting is pushing people to a state of terror. A recent Wall Street Journal headline read: “‘Don’t Panic’ Is Rotten Advice.”1 Those who fall prey to the media typify “those who are overwhelmed by the crisis.”

However, where are “those who rise up to resist the trend of events and so change the course of history?” Thanks be to God, one still finds them amidst the current panic. Selflessly, these put themselves at risk to practice charity.  A perfect example is the Brotherhood of Saint Eloi. Their tireless efforts are demonstrated by the following story…

The “Charitables” of Bethune

In a cemetery in northern France, members of the Charitable Brotherhood of Saint Eloi de Bethune, called the “Charitables,” carry a coffin to a family tomb, each wearing a face mask that stands out against their uniform, consisting of a black coat, white gloves and a bicorne hat. Behind them, the deceased’s family follows, their numbers restricted by a government prohibition on large burial gatherings to stem the rising tide of coronavirus patients.2

The “Charitables” are aware of the danger, but love of neighbor compels them. In a Reuters article, brotherhood member Robert Guernot explained: “We’re aware of the risks… In these difficult times, and in a spirit of solidarity and out of love for one’s neighbor, we are still there to accompany the families of the deceased, and thus provide them with support and comfort.”3 During the eight hundred years since their founding, the “Charitables” have weathered other crises.  In fact, they were established during an outbreak of the plague in 1188.


Then, things looked bleak. The proliferation of mosquitoes and rats exacerbated the spread of the pestilence. Bodies were strewn in the streets. However, people had more faith in God in those days. Amid the rotting bodies and stench of death the townsmen swarmed into the local church and begged God to save them on their knees. They prayed especially through the intercession of Saint Eloi, also known as Saint Elegius. He was an honest goldsmith turned bishop in seventh century France.

Their prayers were answered when, on the feast of Saint Matthew, September 21, 1188, two local smiths met at a water spout between their towns. One, named Germon, was from Beuvry, the other, Gautier, was from Bethune.  While commiserating together over the situation of their people, each told the other that Saint Eloi had come to him in a dream, asking him to found a brotherhood.4

The two men considered this providential and rushed to honor Saint Eloi’s request. The newly founded Charitable Brotherhood of Saint Eloi would give bread to the poor, care to the sick, consolation to the dying and a worthy burial to the dead. Many townsmen of Beuvry and Bethune joined and their ranks swelled. Thanks to their actions, the plague receded and finally disappeared.  If the townsmen had not gone to the Church and prayed for God’s help, they may not have survived the epidemic.

For more than 800 years, the Brotherhood of the “Charitables” have continued their mission and weathered many storms, including almost being destroyed during the French Revolution.

Charity Versus Communism

Today, their respectful treatment of the dead is a pole of stability in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. The brotherhood continues to do what it has always done; willingly carry the deceased, killed by virus or not, to their last resting place. This is a selfless act of charity.

The treatment of the Chinese coronavirus victims stands in stark contrast to their example. There, the military arrests everyone carrying the disease and sequesters them in containment centers. It is authorized to use force against anyone who resists. President Xi Jinping said that anyone who disobeys government orders will be punished. Videos from China demonstrate this, showing coronavirus victims being forcibly dragged from their homes.5

Once a victim has died, his remains are sent to a crematorium where they are incinerated and discarded. His family is forbidden, even from saying a last goodbye. In other words, the communist government treats its citizens like sacks of spoiled meat that are useless to society.

Which method of care would you prefer: that of the “Charitables” or the Communist Chinese government? Which inspires more calm? Unlike the communists, the treatment offered by the brotherhood is like a voice saying, “Have confidence, be courageous! Things are bad but we will pull through this together and no matter what your age or deficiency is, we will take care of you.”

The machine-like brutality of the Communist Chinese only increases the chaos and panic, the brotherhood’s charity eases it. Amid frenzied panic, they apply the antidote of temperance.

Which Will America Be?

How will America react to the coronavirus crisis?  Will it follow the Chinese and become a totalitarian brute that is legitimized by a panic stricken media or will it imitate the “Charitables” and treat the sick and fallen with respect and humanity, calming and stabilizing society amid the chaos?

Clearly, charity is the better option. It is up to you and me, fellow Americans, to shape our nation’s reaction to the virus. We must practice acts of charity and thus counter the trend to panic. If we do this we will become like the “Charitables” and “rise up to resist the trend of events and so change the course of history.”



1. Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal, “‘Don’t Panic’ Is Rotten Advice,” March 12, 2020 last accessed April 6, 2020,

2. Pascal Rossignol, Reuters, “From plague to coronavirus, French brotherhood keeps burying the dead,” March 20, 2020, last accessed April 4, 2020,

3.  Ibid.

4. Jeanne Smits, Lifesitenews, “French brotherhood continues to bury coronavirus victims with dignity during lockdown,” March 30, 2020 last accessed April 15, 2020,

5. Cf. Steven Mosher, Lifesitenews, “China’s communist govt forcibly rounds up Coronavirus victims, treats them like animals,” February 11, 2020 last accessed April 4, 2020,

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