Anna’s messages transmit hope

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Professor Anna Wierzbicka and Father Paul Nulley at O’Connor in the ACT. PHOTO: Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, Felicity de Fombelle

Parishioner shows how language saves lives

Professor Anna Wierzbicka is an internationally-recognised linguist working at the College of Arts and Social Sciences at the Australian National University.

She has crafted messages in the simplest English possible relaying vital information for people to know about COVID-19 and to give them hope throughout the pandemic.

In April she and her colleagues received an SOS call from Milan, as experts in minimal English, to prepare information not only about the dangers of the virus and explaining social distancing, but also to provide psychological and spiritual support to help people through the crisis.

That need was highlighted this week with reports of Sydney University research showing that Australian suicide rates could rise by up to 50 per cent due to the economic and social impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

A patient suffering from COVID-19 is treated at a hospital in Milan April 7, 2020. PHOTO: CNS/Flavio Lo Scalzo, Reuters

In an international video conference held shortly before Easter an Italian researcher in medical humanities, Professor Maria Giulia Marini, said simple and direct messages were urgently needed to get the key information to the most culturally and educationally disadvantaged.

The parishioner of St Joseph’s in O’Connor agreed that while there is no shortage of information on COVID-19 around, it is often phrased in terms which are inaccessible many.
“What I found particularly appealing about Professor Marini’s appeal was to us was that wasn’t just thinking about the physical health and social restrictions information that needs to be imparted, but also the psychological and spiritual needs as well,” said Professor Wierzbicka.

Messages were inspired by parish priest’s homilies

The linguist was inspired by the homilies of her parish priest, Fr Paul Nulley, at the beginning of the crisis and just before churches were closed.

“They were very helpful and thought provoking and I was thinking of my colleagues and others in the secular world who do not listen to homilies but also have these needs,” she said.

“What Fr Paul was telling us is that it’s not just a question of getting through this time, of complying with the restrictions and then all will be as before. Rather there’s a great opportunity in this time for us to see things differently, and to try to learn from people more, and to love people more.

A nurse speaks with patients at the door of a new COVID-19 clinic opening at Mount Barker Hospital in Adelaide, Australia, March 17, 2020. PHOTO: CNS/Kelly Barnes, AAP Image via Reuters

“I thought some messages along similar lines could be formulated without explicitly religious language so they could also help people who are not Christian believers.”

Professor Wierzbicka’s daughter Mary Besemeres and granddaughter Elizabeth Little gave her feedback on the first drafts. Then with help from Professor Bert Peeters ANU and Professor Cliff Goddard, Griffith University she developed ‘Seven Essential Messages for the Time of the Coronavirus’.

They are formulated in words and phrases which research suggests are available in all languages. The messages have been translated into several languages and promoted in Europe, the US and – to Professor Wierzbicka’s “great joy” – have been recorded in at least two Aboriginal languages, Alyawarr and Warlpiri, by supporters in Central Australia.

“It seems evident that in the present crisis effective communication is of the essence,” she said. “Several people have told me how original these messages are.

“For Catholics and other Christians they are not very original, but when they are formulated into very simple and transparent words, then they promote a very strong emotional response.”

Stunning success is ‘the Lord’s work’

Fr Nulley is full of admiration for his parishioner’s faith and the life-saving work she has been able to achieve in a very short time. “I think it’s amazing what Anna has been able to do, but it wasn’t a result of my work,” he said.

“It’s the Lord’s work. “The message of Christ is universal and as a priest it’s simply my ministry to proclaim it.”

Seven essential messages for the time of the coronavirus

Anna Wierzbicka, Australian National University

Message 1

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times

Very bad things are happening to many people now.

Very bad things are happening to many people’s bodies because of the coronavirus,

many people are dying because of this.

More people can die if I do some things now as I have always done. I don’t want this.

Because of this it will be good if I can be at home all the time.

If I have to be not at home for some time, I will think like this all the time:

I don’t want to be near other people; I don’t want to be so near someone

that I can touch them.

I don’t want to be so near someone that I can breathe some of the same air.

Message 2

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times.

Very bad things are happening to many people now.

Many people feel something very very bad.

I can do some good things for some of these people;

I want to do something good for them.

I want to know what I can do; I want to think about it today;

I want to do something today.

Message 3

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times.

During this time many people can’t be with other people as before.

They can’t speak to other people like before; many people feel something very bad

because of this.

I know some of these people. I want these people to know that  I am thinking about them.

I want them to know that I don’t want bad things to happen to them.

I want to do something because of this.

Perhaps I can write to them, perhaps I can ring them, something like this;

I want to do something today.

Message 4

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times.

Very bad things can happen to me during this time, not like at other times.

At the same time, I can do some very good things during this time, not like at other times.

I can do many things “good for the soul”, not like at other times.

I can read books, listen to music, write something every day about this day, things like that.

If I pray, I can pray more; If I don’t pray, I can do something like it.

I can look at the stars at night, I can look at the sky when the sun is rising, things like that.

I want to do these things. I want to do these things today.

Message 5

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times.

I don’t want to think about it like this:

“ Very bad things are happening now, nothing good can happen because of this”.

I want to think like this:

I can do some very good things during this time, not like at other times.

If I do these things, after this bad time I can be not as I was before:

I can know some people better, I can love some people more.

I want this.

Message 6

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times.

I can’t live during this time as I lived before.

At the same time, I can think about many things more,  not as before.

I can think more about things like this:

Why do I live on earth? What do I live for? How can I live if I want to live well?

If I know that I will die soon, what do I want to do before I die?

If I think about these things more now, after this bad time I can live not as I lived before.

I can then live in another way, I can live better.

I want this.

Message 7

It is good for all of us if we think like this every day now:

This time is not like other times.

We can’t live during this time as we lived before.

At the same time, we can think about some things more now, not as before.

We can think about things like this:

“We all live with other people, none of us is like an island.

How can we live well with other people?”

We can think about the earth; we can think like this:

We live on earth now, many people will live on earth after us.

We don’t want very bad things to happen to these people.

If we think about these things more now,

after this bad time we can live not like before; we can live better.

We want this.

  Canberra, Australia

29/4/2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

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