London: Hope and humanity in lockdown

  • Pat Gaffney

Vauxhall Farm Llamas

Vauxhall Farm Llamas

Like many people, living alone during these strange days can be difficult. My daily walks help. Tramping around the streets of Kennington I'm aware of the inequalities in our wealth and our living arrangements. It's Iceland not M&S that has the queues outside. Most people live in blocks of flats and estates, only a few have patchwork gardens. The parks offer a breathing space and escape for the families, the children and the vulnerable living here. I hope we find intelligent and safe ways to keep them open, to maintain some kind of social togetherness.

I am also using my walking to unearth signs and messages of hope in this time. Lambeth and Southwark have wonderful parks. I have discovered sculptures dedicated to gardeners, a Tibetan peace garden, memorials to social reform as well as thought-provoking graffiti and street poetry addressing our reality today.

I value the role that social media platforms that allow me to be outward looking at this inward time. My neighbouring Anglican parishes invited me into their WhatsApp groups, the 'come and see' invitation always works. I can be part of a community that shares a live streamed Sunday Eucharist, collects for local food banks and gathered Easter eggs for the staff at St Thomas' hospital in lieu of a regular parish egg hunt. On Good Friday one church tolled its bell eight thousand times for those who had died from Covid 19 (at that time). I decided to walk the streets around the church, listening to the bell and praying for those who had died. This seemed a very appropriate way to mark the day.

Volunteering with the Irish Chaplaincy now takes the form of regular phone calls rather than visits to isolated elderly. Entering people's lives in this way is both intimate and challenging. It is good to move into a listening rather than doing mode. The Chaplaincy team are exploring ways to offer face-to-face calls, setting up some basic technology for those who are not on-line, a thing that many of us take for granted. The hope is also to link people to the celebration of Mass and to Irish radio stations, basic resources that they are currently denied.

International Zoom and SKYPE meetings with Pax Christi colleagues help maintain a global perspective on life. Wamuyu in Nairobi worries about the security clamp-down during curfew - one young boy has already been shot. Friends in South Sudan and Colombia fear for stalled peace-processes and the impunity with which groups resort to violence during quarantine. António Guterres, UN Secretary General, asks us to end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging the world. An uncontentious challenge for now as we see that we have failed to invest in the NHS and care of the elderly. Will we remember the waste of military spending and the futility of war when all this is over in the knowledge that the outdated military toolbox can never bring us true human security?

Pat Gaffney is a Vice President of Pax Christi and an Executive Committee member of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (Pax Christi International


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Tags: Pat Gaffney, Lockdown, Coronavirus, Pax Christi, Covid-19, Irish Chaplaincy

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