Leela Ramdeen writes:
"Preventing or delaying outbreaks, particularly among the most vulnerable, is the most important action we can take right now...coronavirus will also undoubtedly test our principles, values and shared humanity." (UNHCR)
As Michelle Bachelet and Filippo Grandi, UNHCR, have rightly said: "If our response to coronavirus is grounded in the principles of public trust, transparency, respect and empathy for the most vulnerable, we will not only uphold the intrinsic rights of every human being. We will be using and building the most effective tools to ensure we can ride out this crisis and learn lessons for the future."
I followed the National Day of Prayer on Television in Trinidad and Tobago on Sunday 29 March, hosted by our Prime Minister, Dr the Hon Keith Rowley and his wife, Sharon Rowley, at their residence. I valued the opportunity to pray with leaders of various faith communities in TT. We must keep praying if we are to be rid of this dreadful virus that stalks the world.
Pope Francis reminds us that we must not just rattle off our prayers, but we must pray from the heart. He said: "In prayer...we learn to see one another as brothers and sisters...In prayer, there are no rich and poor people, there are sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. In prayer, there is no first or second class, there is brotherhood and sisterhood. It is in prayer that our hearts find the strength not to be cold and insensitive in the face of injustice...Jesus keeps knocking on our door in the faces of our brothers and sisters, in the faces of our neighbours, in the faces of those at our side."
Prayer can help to change us so that we will become more just; more like the persons that Jesus wants us to be. But prayer must be accompanied by action. Justice and peace will not become a reality unless our prayer is linked to action. As we read in James 2:17: "If good works do not go with Faith, it is quite dead." Pope Francis has said: "You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That's how prayer works." And we must act to change unjust structures also.
When we pray to be delivered from COVID-19, let us not forget to pray and act for those on the margins of our throwaway society. Pope Francis warns against the "globalisation of indifference." Are we indifferent to those who are also vulnerable at this time? Now is the time to rediscover and really live our Faith.
The UK Guardian reported on 21 March that "Hotels and offices will be converted into emergency safe spaces under a national action plan...to protect rough sleepers from coronavirus...The strategy follows the lead of California in allowing vacant hotels to be requisitioned into homes for rough sleepers and those vulnerable to the virus...up to 45,000 'self-contained accommodation spaces' need to be urgently found...Empty hotels...can be leased by the government using funding allocated to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Modelling by University College London found that placing vulnerable groups in hotels was also significantly more cost effective than treating individuals in hospital...disused office blocks and student accommodation have also been identified as possible solutions."
Now is the time for critical thinking. UNHCR's advice should be heeded: "The health of every person is linked to the health of the most marginalised members of the community. Preventing the spread of this virus requires outreach to all, and ensuring equitable access to treatment. This means overcoming existing barriers to affordable, accessible health care, and tackling long-ingrained differential treatment based on income, gender, geography, race and ethnicity, religion or social status.
"People living in institutions - the elderly or those in detention - are likely to be more vulnerable to infection and must be specifically addressed in crisis planning and response. Migrants and refugees - regardless of their formal status - must be an integral part of national systems and plans for tackling the virus. Many of these women, men and children find themselves in places where health services are overstretched or inaccessible. They may be... living in urban slums where overcrowding, and poorly resourced sanitation, increases the risk of exposure."
Let us, and our Government, ensure that in seeking to combat this pandemic, we take into account all those in our communities, including those in our prisons and their victims; as well as those who may have lost their jobs because of the current necessary restrictions. May God deliver us.
Leela Ramdeen is Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, (CCSJ) and Director of CREDI
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