The World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) have released a joint document, ‘Serving a Wounded World in Interreligious Solidarity: A Christian Call to Reflection and Action During COVID-19 and Beyond.’ Its purpose is to encourage churches and Christian organizations to reflect on the importance of interreligious solidarity in a world wounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The document offers a Christian basis for interreligious solidarity that can inspire and confirm the impulse to serve a world wounded not only by COVID-19 but also by many other wounds.
The publication is also designed to be useful to practitioners of other religions, who have already responded to COVID-19 with similar thoughts based on their own traditions.
The document recognizes the current context of the pandemic as a time for discovering new forms of solidarity for rethinking the post-COVID-19 world. Comprised of five sections, the document reflects on the nature of a solidarity sustained by hope and offers a Christian basis for interreligious solidarity, a few key principles and a set of recommendations on how reflection on solidarity can be translated into concrete and credible action.
WCC interim general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca reflected that interreligious dialogue is vital to healing and caring for one another on a global level. “In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the human family is facing together an unprecedented call to protect one another, and to heal our communities,” he said. “Interreligious dialogue not only helps clarify the principles of our own faith and our identity as Christians, but also opens our understanding of the challenges-and creative solutions-others may have.”
Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the PCID, reflected that Christian service and solidarity in a wounded world have been part of agenda of the PCID and WCC since last year. The COVID-19 pandemic pressed the project into action as “a timely ecumenical and interreligious response,” he said, adding that “the pandemic has exposed the woundedness and fragility of our world, revealing that our responses must be offered in an inclusive solidarity, open to followers of other religious traditions and people of good will, given the concern for the entire human family.”
The document is the latest to be co-produced by the WCC and the PCID following the publication of “Education for Peace in a Multi-Religious World: A Christian Perspective” in May 2019.
Pope Francis in his latest encyclical, ‘Fratelli Tutti’, throws down the gauntlet, calling for a new world order with human dignity at its centre.
“Pope Francis is unflinching in his message,” says Christine Allen, director of CAFOD. She continued, “politics is failing the poor, and it is shameful that some of political decisions that are made affect the poorest, plunging them further into poverty, suffering and despair. Politics should be about long-term change and effective solutions, not slogans and marketing.”
In his encyclical Pope Francis states: “Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others…”
“In the beginning, the coronavirus showed us that we could come together, and recognise that what affects one of us, affects us all. But Francis condemns the rush to return to politics ‘as normal’- one of self-interest and indifference to the plight of those left behind”, said Allen.
“While one part of humanity lives in opulence, another part sees its own dignity denied, scorned or trampled upon, and its fundamental rights discarded or violated…”
“This is a message not just to Catholics, or people of other faiths, it is to everyone,” said Allen. “It is a powerful voice amid the pandemic, growing inequality, conflict and racial unrest. Pope Francis’s message is clear, we cannot just switch on the re-set button and go back to ‘normal'”.
The encyclical warns against a rampant culture of individualism, nationalism, and economic models that line the pockets of the rich, at the expensive of our collective ‘silence’ on pressing issues such as global poverty and hunger, the proliferation of more wars and the structures and systems that de-humanise the individual.
Allen said: “This encyclical is a radical blueprint for a post-coronavirus world. Now is the time to change the framework of our economic systems, through debt relief for the poorest countries, the reduction of inequality, and investment in local, green, sustainable economic development.”
The Pope’s vision of the future is one rooted in human solidarity.
“Solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity. It means thinking and acting in terms of community. It means that the lives of all are prior to the appropriation of goods by a few. It also means combatting the structural causes of poverty, inequality, the lack of work, land and housing, the denial of social and labour rights. It means confronting the destructive effects of the empire of money… Solidarity, understood in its most profound meaning, is a way of making history, and this is what popular movements are doing…”
Allen concluded: “The encyclical holds up a vision for real and lasting change, by calling on us to build community at all levels – personal, societal and global, where walls of fear and distrust are replaced by a ‘culture of encounter’, and our solidarity with others restores human dignity.”
According to WFP, over 2.7 million refugees in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, and Djibouti have been impacted, with food or cash transfers reduced between 10 to 30 per cent, as the socio-economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic reduces vital funding from donors.
“Refugees are especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 because they are crowded together in camps with weak or inadequate shelter, health services and access to clean water and sanitation,” said Michael Dunford, WFP Eastern Africa Regional Director.
In addition to COVID, the refugees, especially women, children and elderly, are also at risk of becoming malnourished, which can in turn impact their immune systems and increase their risk of being infected by disease, a tragic vicious cycle in the midst of a global pandemic.
“With COVID yet to peak in East Africa, we cannot turn our backs on people forced to flee and stuck in remote camps,” added Mr. Dunford.
Hard-won development gains at risk
COVID-19 restrictions closed schools in refugee camps, meaning children missed out on vital school meals in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda. In these countries except in Rwanda, funding shortages meant that WFP was unable to provide take home rations to refugee children to help them study at home and stay nourished.
Extended school closures can also expose children to additional challenges, including, teenage pregnancies, sexual abuse, early marriage, violence at home, child labour and high school dropouts, eroding hard-won development gains made over several years.
Women and girl refugees are also at heightened risk of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, in addition to resorting to having sex for payment in order to survive. People with disabilities and unaccompanied or separated children are the most vulnerable, said the UN food relief agency.
World cannot let the most disadvantaged suffer
“Sadly, it is the poorest and most disadvantaged who suffer the most,” said Mr. Dunford, adding, “We simply cannot let this happen. COVID-19 cannot be an excuse for the world to turn its back on refugees at this terrible time.”
Given the pressing situation, WFP is appealing both to traditional donors and new would-be donors, such as international financial institutions, to step forward and assist refugees precisely because their vulnerability only increased with COVID-19.
The UN agency needs some $323 million to assist refugees in the East Africa region over the next six months, about 22 percent greater than during the same period in 2019.
It certainly feels like a second plateau, without a down slope, three times as high as the first. The total number of cases of coronavirus tallied on 19 August in Peru was 558,420, with 53.8% in Lima and Callao, and 26,834 deaths. Gradually, with an increase in the Jungle and the mountains, the number of cases and deaths are almost equal between the capital and the rest of the country. For population size, we have the second highest death rate in the world! 25,500 children and adolescents have been affected, with 106 deaths and some children under five. The medical opinion here is that a child can spread the virus with much more impact, up to 100% more, so beware with the opening of schools!
We are now in a situation where we have to ride out the storm. Unfortunately, it looks as though it is going to last well into next year! The medical facilities available are overrun and the medical staff are exhausted. Covid-19 has increased to above 9,000 new cases daily. The number of deaths now averages 200 daily.
Those under 14 can go out for half an hour a day, accompanied by an adult, but those over 65 continue in lockdown. The curfew in Peru is from 10pm to 4am. Sundays have again been declared lockdown days and 6 departments (Arequipa, Ica, Junin, Madre de Dios, Huanaco and San Martin) are in full-time lockdown along with 34 provinces in other departments of the country. Family and other social gatherings have been banned and sporting events, which were to start, have been banned as are all religious ceremonies.
The cities in the Andes were not so badly hit until the inter-provincial bus services opened up in mid-July, and since then there has been a dramatic increase in cases. For example, in Cajamarca around 90,000 people returned there from Lima and Chiclayo. In the last two weeks the number of cases have doubled there and this is being repeated in many regions of the country, especially Loreto, Arequipa, Cusco, Puno and Ancash.
I accompany Manuel Duato Special Needs School, a Columban project. The teachers are in virtual contact with the parents and through them with nearly 400 children. We have helped 44 families on two occasions, as they have little to no income and are desperate. The teachers are exhausted and worried. Last week two fathers of our Manuel Duato’s Friends over-18 Club, died of covid-19, leaving their adult children without the support and love they need. Five students have had covid-19, with one still in danger. 26 parents have had covid-19, two fathers have died, two more are in intensive care, four have had relapses and the other 18 have recovered. 13 teachers have had covid-19, of whom two have had relapses and the remaining 11 have recovered.
The Warmi Huasi project accompanies children at risk in both San Benito, in the district of Carabayllo, and in the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara, high up in the Andes mountains in the department of Ayacucho. The Province of Paucar de Sara Sara is getting its first cases of covid-19, about 10 in all.
In Ayacucho, our Warmi Huasi team is in touch constantly with the parents, teachers and municipal officials about the welfare of the children. We have just spent two weeks with a virtual training program for all teachers of the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara on bio-security for themselves and in turn for them to communicate the same message to all their students, mostly by whatsapp. We have given out all the books from the reading clubs so that the children have the books to read at home. We also have radio with the children, telling stories and getting them to send in their stories.
In San Benito, the mothers of the four homework clubs have started communal kitchens and a key local community leader started another communal kitchen. The number of families helped in the five communal kitchens has increased to 190, with an average of five per family, so you have 950 people receiving a meal each day. In the communal kitchen run out of the chapel in San Benito, they have a number of social cases: 10 elderly people and a single mother with her five children. There are a number of cases of covid-19 in San Benito – four of the parents of the children in the homework and reading clubs have recovered.
We are in the middle of winter and with the help of friends, we have managed to distribute second-hand clothes to families in need in San Benito and a bed to one family who were sleeping on the floor. Often, I am told, that the children there are the ones reminding their mothers to put on their masks before going out, so our training through WhatsApp is working!
I am in touch with groups of Venezuelan families, and one of these – a family of six – is in desperate straits. They lost their accommodation and have been sleeping on the floor, a third storey flat roof, with just a plastic covering and some old blankets to keep them dry and warm. With friends, we are trying to find them somewhere to stay. I have been able to offer them three months’ rent, hopefully to tide them over this difficult moment.
The people try to be resilient; they keep going and many share what they have with others when the need arises. Many Peruvians started their lives in poverty and gradually improved their lot, but now many of the 70% whose work is in the informal sector, are destined to return to poverty.