Signs of Hope and Renewal

Written by Mauricio Silva, Columban Interreligious  Dialogue Coordinator

Like  many others,  I  wondered  back in  March how  I would personally be  able  to cope  with weeks in isolation and   I  did  worry about  how the most  vulnerable in society  were  going  to be impacted  by  Covid-19. Paradoxically, the various  weeks  of  denial and  ambiguous  guidance from  UK  authorities at the beginning  of  March  (which I now realise had  a devastating effect in  spreading the  virus)  allowed me to prepare for what  was about  to come: it was  a busy time  of  rushing  to  get  provisions (particularly those  extra-precious loo rolls), of cancelling multiple events and  meetings  and,  of  making  arrangements to  ensure those we care for were also prepared and  informed.

The  Sunday  before  the  churches  closed , and  when  changes to some  Mass  rituals  had   already been  implemented and were making us  further distant from  each other, I said goodbye to  my  fellow  choir members  feeling that  I would not  see them  for  a good  while.   I also felt then that  it was to big  a  risk  for  the many fragile and  elderly people in our community  to continue  to attend services there and that the  closing should have  happened before.  When  the  lockdown  was  finally  declared, I  had  an eerie feeling of  expectation: we were entering  an extraordinary  time, a  time  in  which  our anxieties about  what  was  going on locally and  globally  intermingled  with less activity, more physical distance and somehow, more quietness.

As   the crisis unravelled, and  with news of  thousands  of  people  dying  every single  day from Covid19,  I  could  not help  but think of  my own  vulnerability   and  my  fears  for  those  I love. When  working at home, I  was  constantly  distracted  by  ambulance sirens  and  the sight of   solemn funeral  processions passing by.  And despite the suffering taking place in  hospitals, care homes and indeed within many households gripped  by domestic violence,  none  of that  could  stop the  advancing  of  the spring.  And I felt  blessed  by the  many days  of  sunshine we had. The  sun embracing  our  homes,  gardens  and  empty  streets  felt as  a  symbol  of  the God’s constant presence in our lives.  It was both, hard and comforting  to think that this  warm blessing  was  also shining through the  windows  of care homes where  worried  and  sick elderly people were deprived  from seeing their loved ones. It was also shining through the  panes  of hospital  wards filled  with patients gasping  for  air  and  exhausted under equipped  workers bravely battling this pandemic. After all -and as the  gospel says-  God ‘s  sun  rises on the evil and the good.

As  time  went by,  efforts  to keep  connected  and the  desire  to  show  care  and  compassion  for family ,  friends  and   neighbours    became another  silver lining of this pandemic.  Virtual means  of communication became  the channel  of that compassion and  care, and  online  formal and informal meetings started  to multiply. From our own private  space  of  confinement,  friends and colleagues  reached  out  to others. And this  created  in me a  growing  sense  of solidarity  which  progressively   took global  dimensions as the  virus  spread  further and further.  I then  realised -with many others-  that  this could become  our personal and generational opportunity  to kick start pope Francis’   bold  cultural  revolution’  to move us away  from  current ways  of life  that  destroy the environment and oppress the poor.

As we now  experience  the  easing  of the lockdown the sun  continues  to shine on us. And  although  there  is  still much confusion and  uncertainty about what comes next,  I do hope  that  the emerging signs of  hope  I saw during a pandemic Eastertide, will blossom this  Pentecost  gifting  the  world  with a renewed and transformed church which  humbly embraces and helps heal a  wounded  world.

Please find below  some  updates on the  IRD  work done over the lockdown period.

 

RAMADAM 2020

The  holy  month of Ramadan  was  very special  for our  Muslim brothers and  sisters. Many  organisations- including our  friends at  the local  Bahu Trust-  embarked  in initiatives  to look after the most  vulnerable in  Sparkhill and Sparkbrook.  They were  able  to  distribute thousands of  essential  items. These  common  acts of   generosity  in the Muslim  community helped  dispel  the false  rumours spread  in some  media  that they were  not  willing to observe the lockdown  rules during  Ramadan and Eid. Together  with  Orla and  Berlind  we  were able  to attend  a few ‘online iftaars’ , the ceremony of breaking  of the fast at the end  of  the day.  

 

Ramada 2020 during lockdown
During the holy month of Ramadan Mauricio and the Faith in Action Volunteers attended several online iftaars.

 

INTERFAITH CONVERSATIONS ONLINE

During nine  weeks starting  on  23rd March a  group  of  Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and  Jews  met  weekly to  reflect on  topics  such as  hope, despair,  suffering, joys from  each  other’s personal and  faith perspectives. I felt blessed to participate in these  online  encounters every  Tuesday which  were  organised  by the CofE diocesan  Interfaith  Director.  The participants  agreed that this model  of  encounters will be further explored in  the light of  the present  circumstances.

Reflections on interfaith lives
Mauricio has participated in Interfaith Conversations online during lockdown.

 

ASYLUM SEEKERS

Fatima  House  continues  to offer shelter  to  destitute asylum seekers  during the  lockdown ( see  my article about the project). Orla, Berlind  and  Nathalie maintained  remote contact  with asylum seekers  friends in order  to  support them as well as  help  them  understand the  emerging lockdown  rules. Orla  and  Berlind  also  took  time  to reflect on those  encounters and  published their  reflection  on their  online  blog. (  https://wordpress.com/view/columbanfaithinactionvolunteer.wordpress.com )

A new  remote  befriending scheme  was  launched  by Restore back in March,  through  which  many  asylum seekers  and refuges  continued  to be  supported and  accompanied  by  local people.

Via   the  ‘Everyone  In’  governmental initiative many  destitute asylum seekers  were  housed  during the lockdown period.  Now  the  challenge for  campaigners and  advocacy groups is to  ensure the  extension  of  those  initiatives in  a  campaign  called  ‘Everyone in  for  good’  which  we have   joined.  I  also  supported as  coordinator of  Fatima House, the  JRS  campaign  to press the  Home  Office to regularise  the immigration  status  of  thousands  of  asylum seekers living in limbo.

Columbans  involved  in migrant  ministry worldwide   met online  on May 26 to  share  updates  on how  Covid-19 is  affecting  this ministry and  also  to  devise  means  of  collaboration. This fruitful meeting  will  be  followed  up  by  more  encounters  in the near future.

 

TRAINING ON IRD

During the lockdown  period  I  delivered a  4-session course  on   the  church’s  teaching  on  Inter Religious  Dialogue  to  Roberta Kim, the  recently  arrived Columban  lay missionary.  Using  Zoom technology  we were  able  to reflect together  on  these  teachings and  how  we,  as a Region, engage  in this  ministry from  a grassroots perspective ( dialogue of life and  collaboration). As the lockdown eases more learning opportunities will arise for members of the Region to experience  Columban dialogue in Birmingham.

IRD training via Zoom
Mauricio’s weekly meeting with Faith in Action Volunteers Orla and Berlind.