India is a nation of many faiths but how has Covid tested that? Now is the time to collaborate for hope says Fr. George Mutholil SJ
India is groaning; Faith is challenged, even ridiculed!
Yaman, the god of death, is at the doorstep of every third or fourth Indian. We console ourselves; only one per cent of us will be taken away. However, it is no consolation to the ones whose dear ones die. Those who die are our parents, siblings, spouses, best friends, neighbours, and colleagues.
‘Crematories are so full of bodies, it’s as if a war just happened. Many places are holding mass cremations, dozens at a time and at night in certain areas of New Delhi, the capital, the sky glows. Sickness and death are everywhere. Medicine is running out. So is lifesaving oxygen. The sick have been left stranded be in interminable lines at hospital gates or at home, literally gasping for air’ reported Jeffrey Gentleman.
A stranded Italian citizen messaged authorities in Italy, ‘please rescue us. Everyone is dying around us’.
The Predictions are nightmarish. Epidemiologists say the number of infections will keep climbing, to 500,000 a day and as many as one million Indians will be dead by August 2021.
The worst of it, authorities are in a denial mode. They are instructing their foreign missions to combat ‘the misinformation’ spread by ‘anti-national media’ on the Covid-19 pandemic scenario in India. For electoral gains, in recent times, they threw caution to the wind and poured oil into a burning cauldron of Covid-19 infections.
Burkha Dutt, a celebrity Indian television journalist, one of the most influential persons in India, lost her father due to covid-19. She could not provide him sufficient medical care. She said, ‘I feel heart broken, gutted and for the first time in my life without optimism.’
We Indians as such a faith-full people. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, we all pray so much. As per official data, except for a miniscule one per cent population, all others vouch by one of these religions. Our temples, churches, convention centres are resonant with praises to God/s. Our charity centres thrive. Our streets are full of wayside temples, chapels and mosques. Every event in our lives begin with a Pooja or prayer.
Why then has the gods forsaken us?
Faith of the people is not only challenged but also even ridiculed by increasing numbers. Social media is replete with satirical presentations of Christian pastors, Hindu ‘men-women-gods’ and astrologers who had predicted an end to the pandemic.
Where do we find the source of hope?
Surprisingly, not in the religious leaders or the thousands of ‘men-women-gods’ who throng the streets of India, but in ordinary frontline workers: Nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, delivery boys, cremators, scientists and the like. Somehow, the absence of religious figures is felt excruciatingly. They do not seem to have anything to offer. A journalist friend of mine, while responding to Burkha Dutt, stated, ‘…a very depressing statement. Here is where the Church’s mission begins – Instil hope and amid encircling gloom. But are we prepared?’
We do not seem to be prepared
Unfortunately, the answer to my journalist friend is, we do not seem to be prepared. Our regular charitable works seemed to have slowed down or in some cases come to a standstill. Even those warriors in the frontline who are fighting with the victims are not visible. Our Church leaders seem to be absent in the public domain even in making statements of solidarity.
Jesuits, who had made a significant intervention along with their alumni during the first wave of Covid-19, seem to be rattled by almost two dozen victims to the virus in a week, most of them active and young. Many are affected and in quarantine, some of them in hospitals and few of them in hospitals, including some of the leaders of the first wave of relief work. There does not seem to be energy for a concerted effort at organizing people. And one can understand that. When staying at home is the only option to save oneself and the world what do we do!
We need to move on
The Universal Apostolic Preferences focus so much on accompaniment. Accompaniment of the poor, the suffering, the young and the universe. Accompaniment holding hands with Jesus our leader and companion. We cannot afford to remain silent for too long. There are optimistic invitations all around. For instance, Dr. Anthony Fauci assured us recently: “Yes, first of all, I say that the entire world is pulling for and in solidarity with India, for sure. We are very pained to see India suffering so much. And that’s the reason why the rest of the world really needs to chip in and help. But to the people of India, I’ll say, hang together. Everybody is in this together. And just as I said in the Senate hearing, it will end. We will get to a normal. There is suffering now but I guarantee that we will get it back to normal. Hang in there, help each other. Take care of each other and things will get back to normal.”
May we have such an optimism and collaborative action following sooner than later?