Nope, St. Corona not patron saint of pandemics
It seems to have started on Gloria.tv, which describes itself as a “nonprofit international Catholic social network and a video/news sharing platform,” claiming that a St. Corona was the patron saint of pandemics. That spread quickly, faster than the coronavirus.
But as it went viral, so too did the skeptical reactions.
I checked various sources, notably snopes.com and truthorfiction.com, which have become indispensable for checking out urban myths, stories that go around the internet, spreading anxiety, fear, false hopes, or even prejudice and hatred.
As myths go, many of the stories have elements of truth weaved in. But both snopes and truthorfiction declared the news “false.”
St. Corona is associated with St. Victor, who lived in the second century, both of them Roman but assigned elsewhere, belonging to families of soldiers.
They were underground Christians and Victor had been sentenced to death for his faith. While he was being tortured, Corona came forward to nurse the tortured soldier and to profess her faith. That led to her also being tortured, then executed, as was Victor.
In early Christianity bishops could on their own declare saints, and there were many, mostly those martyred for their persecuted faith. Details about the lives of the saints vary—for example, some accounts point out this saint’s name was actually Stefania, Greek for crown, which became the Latin Corona.
Another version is that through her martyrdom, she took on a crown of steadfast faith.
More than 2,000 years later, with the coronavirus going around, it’s not surprising people turn to a saint with the name Corona.
The problem is that rather than being associated with pandemics, St. Corona is better known as a patron saint for money matters, including treasure hunting and gambling.
This St. Corona viral news reminds us that outside of Rome’s official canonization processes, people create their own saints and causes.
Deities and saints
St. Corona was inviting because of her name, and because her relics are in a basilica in Anzu, Italy, where the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has been raging.
There are historical accounts of epidemics through the centuries, and throughout the world, and whenever they erupt, people of all faiths turn to their sets of deities and saints to appeal for intercession, sometimes even creating new ones … or shifting loyalties.
The story goes that the people of Naples ditched their patron St. Genaro in favor of St. Anthony when they were threatened with a volcanic eruption. When the volcano erupted anyway they went back to St. Genaro.
Catholic News Service, in an article about the St. Corona controversy, suggests that given her association with money matters, she might be someone to turn to as the pandemic has so adversely affected the world economy.
We might want to go back to saints as exemplars, and, for the current pandemic, turn to those who ministered to people in times of plagues and epidemics.
A popular saint in the Philippines is San Roque (St. Roch), depicted always with a dog at his side. His left hand always has a piece of bread while the right points to a sore on his leg.
San Roque was the son of a French nobleman, went on a pilgrimage to Rome and decided to stay on to administer to the sick during a plague. He himself was infected and he went off to the woods (self-quarantine?).
San Roque is invoked as a patron saint for plagues, dogs, invalids and, wow, bachelors (with or without dogs).
Saints in our midst
Seriously, let’s not forget we have, today, saints in our midst, health professionals and workers risking infection, even death, as they care for COVID-19 patients.
Appealing to the saints becomes part of psychological support. But even the most religious will remember our saying, “Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa.” (Just do your best, God will take care of the rest.)
I couldn’t help but think, too, that so many problems associated with COVID-19 have less to do with medicine than with human folly. If saints can indeed intercede then we should pester Sta. Corona, San Roque, whoever, to rein in or enlighten politicians and power-tripping bureaucrats, even health professionals more concerned about protecting their turfs than their colleagues in the front lines.
Perhaps St. Jude then, the patron saint of the difficult, if not the impossible? That’s Jude Thaddeus, not the other treacherous one, who unfortunately we do have too in our midst in these coronavirus times.
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Michael L. Tan is a Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist, a medical anthropologist and professor at the University of the Philippines.
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