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.
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.
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.
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.