Post-pandemic challenge to Christian Churches, faith communities By M K George, SJ


Post-pandemic challenge to Christian Churches, faith communities

By M K George, SJ

Jamshedpur, April 7, 2020: It may be too early to speak of post-pandemic times. No one really knows when and where the pandemic will end. But, hoping against hope and looking at some of the stabilizing or downward trends and the social responses to the pandemic, these reflections may be relevant and timely.

Faith communities are taking a real beating. Some are called downright criminals. Cases are filed and aggressive witch-hunting is reported across India. Christian worship is questioned. Whether the ritualistic and pietistic practices will return to its old glory is a moot question. May be it will.

The real issue is, any genuine faith is manifested in worship and in service. One without the other is aberration. One of the most consoling fall-outs of the crisis is how faith communities along with the government and other civil society organizations have organized support to one of the most pitiable victims of the pandemic and consequent lockdown, the migrant labor.

Amid the indescribable suffering caused by the pandemic and the consequent measures, the most heartbreaking was the way the migrant labor were treated: beaten up, made to walk, insulted and in one word, thoroughly de-humanized.

A bit of data may be worth recalling. India has only 10-20 percent of organized labor. About 80 percent or even more are in the informal sector. This means numerically, 400 million workers. These eke out a hand to mouth to existence. They have no health insurance. Some may not even have ration cards. Neither do they have comfortable shelters. Many are undernourished.

Some of these are the ones who in large numbers walked back to their home villages. These are the ones who were ignored and humiliated by the state authorities and even the public during the early stages of lockdown. Currently, many of them are under lockdown in metros, depending on food and shelter provided by the state or NGOs. In a recent interview one of them said, ´The leaders of the country forgot about us…. or do they know we are here at all.´´

Critical observers are already predicting that ‘while the benefits of a lockdown preventing the infection are equal for all, the costs will be disproportionately higher for the poor, who unlike the better off, have neither the luxury of working from home nor enough of a savings to exhaust while not earning. Disease is brought by the rich, the poor pays for it.’

It is in this scary context of mass starvation and deprivation that the Faith Communities are challenged. Can every faith community ensure that they collect data about those poor around their institutions, worship and social centers, irrespective of caste, class, gender or religion? Can they ensure that they will have food and shelter either through the resources of the Church/faith community or through networking with the government, Industries, civil society organizations and NGOs?

A massive effort at organizing charity to feed and shelter the poor till they tide over the economic crisis created by this pandemic, is the challenge now, not only for the government but also for the Faith Communities. For the latter it becomes a vindication of their very existence.

Remember Tagore: ´Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee! He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the path-maker is breaking stones.´

(Father M K George is the Regional Assistant for South Asia at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome. He is currently at Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, because of the nationwide lockdown.)

Courtesy: Matters India