(Source: MJ/Robin Gomes, Vatican News)
Pope Francis’ desire of a Church that consoles, accompanies and heals people as they emerge from the ravages of COVID-19 is being carried out in various forms on local levels around the globe.
This was stated during a Vatican press conference on the Church’s action in the post-COVID-19 phase. “Preparing the future through the local Churches in the time of COVID-19” was the theme of the press conference on Tuesday, which was streamed live because some health protocols are still in place.
On a March 20 request of Pope Francis, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (DPIHD) created the Vatican COVID-19 Commission, in order to express the Church’s solicitude and care for the whole human family facing the pandemic.
Under this banner, the Dicastery and Caritas Internationalis have been collaborating to realise the Pope’s desire.
Among those who responded to journalists at Tuesday’s press conference were Cardinal Peter Turkson, DPIHD Prefect, Monsignor Segundo Tejado Muñoz, DPHID Under-secretary and Mr Aloysius John, Secretary-General of Caritas Internationalis, the global confederation of 165 national Catholic relief and development agencies.
“As long as there is one case of COVID-19, the world is not safe”
Outlining the vision of the Church’s action in the aftermath of the pandemic, Cardinal Turkson said it is one of hope looking to the future, which is open to God.
In this light, he said, the dignity of everyone must be ensured with tenderness and inclusive solidarity, so that no one is left behind.
The future post-COVID-19 that the Vatican and Caritas are working towards is one that “completely integrates the human being in its dignity, in all its reality and in all its sense”, Turkson explained, adding that the Church is committed to a coronavirus aftermath that “fully integrates the human person, that makes all systems very inclusive [and is] characterised by solidarity so that the human person is never treated as an afterthought or something that is left aside”.
“That is the future that Pope Francis wants us to create”, Turkson said.
“A future of restored humanity – in full dignity and a sense of inclusiveness – characterised by a great sense of solidarity where the big, the rich and the powerful come down in tenderness toward the lowly to make the lowly feel part of the system”, he explained.
The cardinal went on to note that while Europe is coming out of the pandemic and gradually rolling back restrictions, elsewhere, such as in Latin America and Africa, the story is different.
Stressing that “as long as there is one case of COVID-19, the world is not safe”, he said all countries must be equitably helped to come out of this emergency in collective solidarity.
Caritas in action
The issue of solidarity and human rights was addressed by Aloysius John of Caritas Internationalis, which is funding some 20 projects around the world. Prime importance is being given to safeguarding children, women and the most vulnerable.
The Church’s solidarity and charity have great repercussions in certain countries such as in Pakistan, where Caritas reaches out to all without distinction, creating a fertile field for inter-faith harmony and dialogue.
In strife-torn countries such as Senegal, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Somalia, Caritas is working at the camps for the displaced with the help of local Churches, helping them be together in harmony, peace and reconciliation.
In Brazil and Peru, the indigenous people have been sensitised in their natïve language regarding the COVID-19 virus and how to protect themselves. Caritas is carrying out projects to the value of $12 million around the world, including in Honduras, Ecuador and Venezuela.
Caritas has also been working in close collaboration with the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) to help the indigenous people of the Amazon region have access to the right information on COVID-19 in their own language, so that they can protect themselves.
The key factor in all these programmes, John said, has been the inspiration of Pope Francis, who urges the Church to accompany, to defend and to serve people in their dignity.
John spoke about how India’s internal migrants, working outside their home states, were suddenly stranded without jobs and with no means to return home because of the lockdown.
Local Caritas units have been able to reach out to them with shelter, food and other basic needs until they can return home.
Caritas has also been very active in helping migrants in Greece.
John pointed out that the Church, along with Caritas, has a 3-prong action in the COVID-19 scenario.
Firstly, Caritas is disseminating the right information regarding the virus to the people through various methods.
Secondly, it is providing food and shelter to those affected by the closedown. John cited someone from India saying the lockdown has been particularly hard on beggars in empty streets who cannot even rummage for food in the garbage.
Some bishops along with Caritas staff, John said, were able to reach these beggars to provide them with their physical needs, talking to them and bringing them some dignity. Cardinal Turkson added that in South Africa, rival gang members have laid down their weapons and are handing food out together to the local poor.
Lastly, John mentioned that Caritas is providing those hygiene materials essential for preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.