The COVID-19 pandemic has come at a time of fracturing human solidarity. Prior to the exponential increase in infections around the world during March 2020, there were already signs of increased international tension and isolationism. Talk of trade wars involving China and ongoing military and political tension in the Middle East and parts of Africa, as well as recent issues in Hong Kong, are examples of a world that is moving further and further away from peaceful co-existence.
In times of stress, it is natural that we tend to think of ourselves first. While Australia has been mercifully freed, at least to some extent, from the more serious health and economic consequences that have beset other countries, we need to ensure that we don’t fall into the trap of ignoring the plight all those who are so much worse off than ourselves.
Most of the media coverage on the television news is from the United States and Europe. There is very little coverage of those remote parts of the world that are economically underdeveloped. There is a real risk that they are out of sight and therefore out of mind.
In March 2020, Pope Francis established an emergency fund to respond to the needs of Churches affected by COVID-19. This fund is under the care of the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS), of which Catholic Mission is the Australian expression.
Churches in the mission territories are particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. An Australian Columban, Fr Robert McCulloch SSC, who was in Karachi, Pakistan, when the pandemic broke out, wrote to me explaining that a Catholic hospital was on the brink of financial catastrophe and he made the point that there was no JobKeeper or government stimulus to prop things up.
Through the generosity of our supporters, Catholic Mission has been able to make some funds available for the international emergency fund. Archbishop Giampietro del Toso, President of the PMS, allocated to Australia support for the diocese of Dinajpur in Bangladesh. This diocese is in the northern part of Bangladesh and most of the Christians are from the Adivasi tribal community. The majority are very poor, and they depend on small jobs or on daily labouring. There is widespread discrimination against them. Most have lost their jobs with little hope of alternative employment. Bishop Sebastian Tudu made this tragic assessment, “the consequence is that many people will lose their job permanently and they will starve with their children.”
In his application for funding, Bishop Tudu explained that there is no equipped hospital for COVID-19 testing and treatment and protective personal equipment is not available for health workers and the people. Bishop Tudu is afraid that if proper protection and treatment is not available, village after village will be seriously affected and the virus may wipe out the total locality.
In the Archdiocese of Kaduna, in Nigeria, a report from the PMS news agency Fides told of the severe impact of COVID-19, which has increased the suffering of the population already severely affected by terrorist attacks on Christian communities which caused deaths, injuries and numerous displaced persons, as well as a general climate of fear.
Many of those who are most vulnerable seek refuge in the parishes, but the priests do not have the means to support them. Since the churches are closed, there is no support even for the daily sustenance of parish workers.
In Nairobi, Sister Grace Njau, coordinator of the rehabilitation centre and the Amani primary school, managed by the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood, decided to dedicate a day to the distribution of foodstuffs and other basic necessities to help the most needy families. Usually the children are fed at the centre, but this initiative reached out in a very effective way, directly assisting those in need.
Since the foundation of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith by Pauline Jaricot in Lyon, France in 1822 the Church has used this international network of prayer and charity to give witness to the solidarity of humanity. The assistance which those parts of the Church that are better off can provide to those other parts in need reflects the fundamental principle of the Gospel that we must love our neighbour as ourselves.
Fr Brian Lucas is the National Director of Catholic Mission.
With thanks to Catholic Mission.