In 1832 there had been an initial outbreak of cholera in Marseilles while Eugene was in Rome to be made Bishop of Icosia. Fearing that it would lead to epidemic proportions, Eugene approached the Pope to grant a series of indulgences to people of the diocese who responded to the needs of those dying of cholera. Eugene’s list received papal approval in November 1832.

1/ A plenary indulgence for those who had contracted the illness and went to confession;
2/ 100 days for each person who visited the sick to bring them spiritual or material help;
3/ A plenary indulgence once a week to those who cared for the cholera victims in their (usually fatal) illness;
4/ 100 days for each priest approved as a confessor each time he heard the confession of a cholera victim;
5/ a plenary indulgence once a week to priests who assisted those dying of cholera.

Papal Audience of 2 November 1832 in Rey I p. 617.

Perhaps the question of indulgences does not speak as loudly today as it did then, but the point of this text is to show how serving the cholera victims was portrayed as a Gospel corporal work of mercy. This was highlighted by the fact that the illness was highly contagious and that people obviously avoided those who had contracted it. Thus, those who remained to give the necessary assistance were being shown that whatsoever they did to one of these victims, at great danger to themselves, they did it to God (cf. Matthew 25) and in God’s name.

The 1832 cholera outbreak did not take hold and last, but in January 1835, cholera broke out again and this list of indulgences was promulgated and published in every church and oratory of the diocese.

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    At first reading this morning of the indulgences available to those who assist any victims of Cholera brought forth a silent reaction of “Good grief – we don’t earn our way into heaven”. And yet I remember how long I tried, wanted to do just that. It has been and continues to be a life-long transition into loving and caring simply because that is how God fills my heart and eventually brings me home.

    Not a ‘Free Pass’ through Purgatory, but perhaps as Frank suggests: “…the point of this text is to show how serving the cholera victims was portrayed as a Gospel corporal work of mercy”.

    I remember some years back when I was invited to go and listen to the Ottawa Choral Society sing the story line of the first black and white movie of Ben Hur. The movie managed to portray God, the hand of God as being a very bright pure white arm reaching out to some women who suffered the life of being lepers. It struck me to the bone how isolated and abandoned these people were and begged me to look at what that might look like our time just as this posting is doing.

    I think of the democratic Republic of Congo and the many suffering from Ebola – extremely contagious and most often deadly. I think too of the outbreak of hatred that is focused on migrants and refugees from different areas in the world – so many people that seem to be ‘different’ or a ‘threat’ to others. Huge and endless fences and walls built to keep us apart. Cholera and many other diseases of the heart still exist just as do the Gospel corporal works of mercy.

    My mind shifts to the Oblates over in Poland looking at how we try to live those very Gospel values as members of the Mazenodian Family. How we might continue to do better and help those who are among the poorest and the most abandoned. This place here each morning is not an indulgence that will earn me anything; but it does remind and invite me to reflect on how I can live out those same Gospel values and corporal works of love.

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