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Pastor, Imam Discuss COVID-19's Effect On Followers


This morning, we're bringing you another conversation from a series we've called Connections. We want to connect people from different places who are facing similar experiences and challenges as a result of the coronavirus - and today, two faith leaders, a reverend and an imam. They're from Cambridge, Mass., just outside of Boston, and Manhattan, N.Y. Both of those cities have been grappling with COVID-19 outbreaks. And both leaders joined us to connect about the toll the virus has taken on their congregations.

KHALID LATIF: So nice to meet you. My name is Khalid Latif. I'm the university chaplain at New York University and the director of NYU's Islamic center. We've had at least one, if not a few people every day either lose a loved one or pass away themselves. And the impact that it's, you know, taking on a lot of people emotionally has been challenging, to say the least.

IRENE MUNROE: Well, likewise. I'm Reverend Irene Munroe, here in Cambridge. And my spouse is an ER physician. So you can imagine what our life is like here, particularly since Boston is in its surge phase. I've been doing funerals and home-goings, sometimes without bodies, which exacerbates the pain and loss. So I hear the lament of family members. They wish they could have held, you know, their loved one's hand.

And I'll hear them say to me, I wonder if my mom or dad is in some huge, refrigerated truck with, you know, a toe tag on it, you know? I've been doing that and doing weddings, believe it or not. So it's wonderful to hold that, too, in this particular moment in time.

GREENE: Imam, are you doing virtual funerals as well?

LATIF: What we've tried to do is help and manage funeral homes' capacity, as well as providing funds to people who are in need who otherwise just couldn't afford the funerals - to purchase more vehicles, trailers that were refrigerated so that more bodies could be stored and transported. You know, the likelihood that they were able to even spend time with their loved ones in their last moments is very minimal, let alone being able to attend a funeral service.

And so as best as we can, we're encouraging our community to be sure that they're just checking in on everyone, you know, as often as possible just so where there's physical distancing, it doesn't have to necessitate, you know, spiritual disconnectedness.

GREENE: Reverend, is trying to help your community understand that social distance doesn't mean spiritual distance, is that something you've been working on, too, that message?

MUNROE: Oh, my goodness. Tremendously. I had one person say to me, Jesus is my vaccine. And so I've been trying to help them understand that there's a difference between blind obedience and reasoned faith here. And our faith, in light of, you know, the God we serve, would want us to take care of our bodies and our communities, and that it's mandated that we do so.

GREENE: Your wife is a doctor, is that right?

MUNROE: An ER physician. Yeah.


MUNROE: We're living in separate quarters of the house. We communicate vis FaceTime. If we are in the same space, we have on masks and shield, a face shield.

GREENE: I just think about the things that you're doing. I mean, you have this spiritual role for people in pain. She is treating people who are going through unimaginable suffering. And yet, you two can't really comfort one another.

MUNROE: No. As soon as she comes in the house, she goes straight upstairs to the third level of the house, shower - blah, blah, blah - put on a new mask, put on the house face shield. And that's how we roll for right now.

LATIF: You know, I told a friend of mine that I have many students whose families encourage them to be doctors who really have no desire to be a doctor. And for the first time, you know, I said to myself, it's so good that so many people are actually going into this field, you know, standing with these patients and really doing this important, critical work at this time.

GREENE: Can I ask you both about scripture? Imam, is there a passage in the Quran that you think about, that comes to mind in what we're going through right now?

LATIF: Yeah. I mean, we have a passage that says, (speaking Arabic) - that, indeed, with hardship, there comes ease. Indeed, with hardship, there comes ease. You know, the utilization of the verse twice is there for emphasis. We get a lot of people right now who are young children whose parents have passed away. We have survivors who are struggling, have been forced to live with their abusers for weeks. You know, refugees, the undocumented, the incarcerated sit in infected prisons. And I think that verse, you know, says, to me, that there is hardship. But ease will come. And that's a divine promise.

GREENE: Reverend Munroe, what about the Bible? What do you turn to?

MUNROE: What I offer up in terms of scripture is the 23rd Psalms, particularly that verse that I lift up as, though, I will walk through the valley of death. I will fear no evil. Also a spiritual that was sung during the nadir of our civil rights movement that many, you know, people of the black church tradition know - He's got the whole world in His hand.

Then there's another one that has worked for many of my atheists. And it's a quote from Ernest Hemingway's novel "A Farewell To Arms." And the scene is really against a kind of looming horror of a battlefield. And many people see this invisible virus as a battlefield. And the quote is, "the world breaks us all. But some of us grow strong in the broken places." And I tell them that all things break, that all things can be mended, especially when we do it together.

GREENE: Well, listen; thank you both so, so much. And we'll be thinking about both of your communities as we all go through this.

MUNROE: Thank you both.

LATIF: Thank you.

GREENE: That was Reverend Irene Munroe and Imam Khalid Latif. And we'll hear more of these Connections conversations to come here on MORNING EDITION soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF POPPY ACKROYD'S "STRATA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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