Witnessing the pandemic

New Yorkers suffered through the same months of lockdowns, fear, and sickness as the rest of the country.  Images and reports of the suffering have been endless.

Yet there were countless moments of people helping others, of caring, of reaching out and offering hope.   Moments of courage and moments of trust in God.  Moments of transcendence and prayer.

Now the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, Manhattan, is presenting a photographic exhibit that highlights and honors that spirit.  Portraits of Grace: Honoring Heroes of the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic showcases the human and the divine present in the pandemic experience. 

From September 14 to October 4, the Sheen gallery, in collaboration with America Media and the National Review Institute's Center for Religion, Culture, and Civil Society, with support from the Anglosphere Society and the Knights of Columbus, will host the exhibit.  The presentation is intended to capture New Yorkers challenged in ways no one expected while offering the living witness of the Gospel message in action.

Board member of the Sheen Center Amanda Bowman had the idea of a photographic project to bring the positive and the heroism of the pandemic in New York.  It would prominently feature the Catholic response but not be limited to it.  It would present the Church's outreach alongside others and present a picture of how coming together worked to bring grace, healing, and hope to a suffering city.

When photojournalist Jeffrey Bruno was asked to be the curator, he didn't realize how few pictures had been taken during the peak of the pandemic.  He found that few photographers had taken pictures of how the coronavirus was impacting the city.  In addition to many photographers being out of work, hospitals and other venues were not allowing anyone in, many churches were closed, and some photographers didn't want to be out and about during the coronavirus.  His role involved countless hours of photo research, speaking with photographers, and combing galleries to compile the photos needed.   

Bruno found one photographer who did have hospital access because he worked for a medical company, Northwell.  Lee Weissman's photos gave a glimpse of what it was like emotionally for health care workers who kept showing up, not knowing what toll the virus could take on them or their families if exposed.  "A portrait of courage emerges," Bruno says.  "That's selfless heroism.  I developed a richer understanding and appreciation for those who showed up on the battle lines."

Heroes of the pandemic were not only medical personnel.  Priests, consecrated women and men, and dedicated laypeople stepped forward to bring the Gospel's message of hope.  The images honor those who were there to meet the physical and spiritual needs of a people in crisis.

The words of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, are intertwined among the photos.  

No matter how dark some days seemed, we remained united in our unwavering faith in God, knowing that He would bring light out of the darkness, hope from despair, life from death.

The exhibition is free of charge and marks the grand reopening of the Sheen Center.

'Re-entering His Presence'- A young man from St. Francis House in Brooklyn prays quietly on May 26, 2020; the first day that churches in NYC reopened after being closed for a year.

'Portrait of Grace'-A nurse at Lennox Hill Hospital in Manhattan brings hope and encouragement to a patient suffering from complications due to COVID-19.
by Lee Weissman/Northwell

'A World Mourns'- Jorge Islas Lopez, consul general of Mexico in New York, joins his staff in carrying the cremated remains of 250 Mexicans who had died from COVID-19, from St. Patrick's Cathedral in NYC. The ashes were blessed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan. by Gregory Shemitz

Images courtesy the Sheen Center. Used by permission.

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