Father P. Gnana Reddy holds palm fronds as he walks towards the altar to celebrate a private Palm Sunday Mass at St. Joseph's Church in Secunderabad on April 5 during a 21-day government-imposed lockdown in India. (Photo: Noah Seelam/AFP)
The 21-day lockdown in India that began on March 25 is in its second week. We Indians are slowly getting to grips with our situation.
For practising Catholics and ardent churchgoers, the lockdown has proved a bit traumatic. They are scrambling to find ways to replace going to church.
Quite a menu of livestreamed and recorded Eucharist celebrations is available to choose from. There are online Masses and retreats, and last week even had a holy hour with Pope Francis imparting his special Urbi et Orbi blessing.
While these are soothing to some extent, I feel my faith shaken each morning when I turn on the news. Thousands continue to die and the numbers are increasing each day.
When churches shut their doors to worshipers, the first thought that struck me was, “What is God saying to us in this pandemic?”
Two weeks into the lockdown, watching the global pandemic unfold, the rate of increase in infections and deaths across the world is overwhelming and scary.
The heroic healthcare workers trying to save lives at the cost of their own; other essential services working with little or no personal protective equipment; poor daily wage laborers trying hard to find ways to survive, even to the extent of undertaking a walk of hundreds of kilometers to reach their homes in remote Indian villages in the hope of finding at least shelter, water and some food; refugees fleeing war but caught in camps that could turn into death traps at any moment … all these situations challenge my faith. My faith is in Jesus, who gave us just one commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
When I think about missing a celebration of the Eucharist, my thoughts go deeper to what the Eucharist really means to us. I realize it is Jesus telling us, “What I have done for you, you should also do” — wash one another’s feet.
He broke bread and gave it to those gathered at table and said: “This is my body, broken for you.” Similarly, he took the cup and shared it with those at table, saying “this is the cup of my blood shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
I am reminded of how the Eucharist is lived by all the healthcare professionals who are breaking themselves for the sick, those putting their lives on the line to serve us in so many different ways, so that I can be safe at home and get my essential needs during the lockdown. All I can do is pray that they will be protected, that they may not labor in vain.
I pray that all those refugees living in limbo in camps so cramped that a single infection could be disastrous for thousands of innocent lives already battered with war and years of uncertainty.
I lift in prayer all those who are not fortunate to have shelter, food and water that they will reach places and people where they can receive these essentials for life. I show my solidarity by donating towards the services offered to people stranded. Beyond this I feel totally helpless. So I look for hope.
I find hope in the fact that the lockdown has given a respite to nature. Our atmosphere is free of so much pollution because carbon emissions are drastically reduced.
I find hope when so many younger people are out there at distribution centers serving food to the stranded and displaced migrant workers. News reporters are out there bringing the reality of this human tragedy to our attention and demanding action from governments.
I find hope in the fact that housing societies comprising people of different faiths are sharing their prayers, chants, inspiration to comfort each other and together caring for their workers. That people are reaching out to enquire after those living alone and helping one another, which rarely happened when everyone was busy with their own business in the daily humdrum of normal living.
I find hope in the fact that people of all faiths are working together to bring hope to the migrants stranded in our cities. That people of all faiths are contributing towards buying food and donating funds towards these initiatives.
Yes, I see people of all faiths living the Eucharist. They have stepped out risking infection, thinking more of those in need. I give thanks to God that this time has brought out the best in people and pray that the spirit generated during the lockdown lasts beyond the survival of the virus.I find hope in that fact that we forget our differences, our disputes over worship spaces or ideologies, our selfishness to hoard, and continue to live in peace and harmony as humans.
Virginia Saldanha is the former executive secretary of the Office of Laity of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences and a freelance writer and advocate for women's issues based in Mumbai, India.