One of the world’s most powerful figures, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has been laid low by the coronavirus. News of his hospitalization would be compelling enough. Yet the public response is just as newsworthy. It hints at a spiritual revival of concern for the weakest during this health crisis, no matter what their station in life.
Across Britain, people have placed signs outside houses saying “Pray for Boris.” Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders in Britain have offered prayers or asked for God’s blessing for the prime minister and his loved ones.
Abroad, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo said he had prayed for Mr. Johnson’s “swift recovery.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “The people of Israel pray for the speedy and full recovery of our friend.” President Donald Trump said both he and the American people were praying for a “good friend.”
The COVID-19 emergency has magnified a common religious practice to look after the desolate, the poor, and the weak with healing, prayer, and justice. Right now, the wealthy countries that already have a jump on the virus are turning their attention to poor countries to help them stamp out the disease and stop a deepening of the global economic collapse. Many countries are debating how to fix inequities exposed during the outbreak, such as the low quality of health care for minorities.
A good example of a spiritual leader helping the faithful navigate these times is Iraq’s most prominent Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. He triggered a mass campaign of volunteers after calling on Iraqis to support those in need during the crisis, regardless of their faith or ethnicity. He also asked them to get closer to God to end the “plague” while “adhering to professional health guidelines.”
It is still unclear if the global trauma will lead to a renewed, long-term interest in spirituality. Yet in the United States, a Gallup poll found 19% of Americans said their faith or spirituality has gotten better as a result of the crisis. In sharp contrast, other aspects of the lives of Americans – relationships, diet, mental health, and exercise – had not changed nearly as much. Another poll, by Pew, found more than half had prayed for an end to the coronavirus outbreak.
These polls help explain the outpouring of prayers for the British prime minister and, along with it, the outpouring of aid and comfort for those most in need in this pandemic. Such human compassion is surely a sign of a deeper understanding of its spiritual origin.