By Jeanette Arnquist
“This is not a time for indifference, because the whole world is suffering and needs to be united in facing the pandemic.” – Pope Francis
“Love one another as I have loved you.” - Jesus
The whole world has gone through a terrible year. At the moment I am writing this, we seem to be in a good place with regard to Covid-19. By we, I mean people in the United States. There are still too many new cases per day, and sadly too many people dying, but the numbers are stable or falling. Although some people remain hesitant to be vaccinated, the percentages of adults vaccinated is making a difference. The economy seems to be reopening. Churches are opening. We are getting back to “normal.”
But if we look around the globe we see that the situation in too many other countries is dire. The pandemic is going like wildfire through India where the number of new cases ranges from 250,000 to 400,000 daily and deaths total over 250,000. There is no oxygen. No beds in hospitals. Almost no vaccine. And the health officials think that the real impact of the disease is about twice what is being reported. And then the cyclone hit.
Before the start of 2020, much of the world was already in crisis.
The war in Yemen began in 2015 and has created the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. Eighty percent of the population are in need of assistance. Children are the hardest hit. Many are dying or being maimed directly by the conflict. Most of them are suffering malnutrition and far too many are dying from hunger. It has become a living hell. And then there is Covid-19.
Our Central American neighbors have for decades been living through violence unprecedented outside of war zones. Many have fled with their children and what they can carry in a backpack for the dangerous trip to apply for asylum in the United States only to be stuck in Mexico for a year. Some decide to try to cross the desert and sadly some of them die in the process. And then there is Covid-19.
The conflict between Israel and Gaza turns deadly.
Poverty. Food insecurity. Climate change. Abortion. War. I could go on. All made worse by Covid-19.
If we claim to follow the Gospel, we will “Love one another as I have loved you.”
How does God love us? And how can we love our brothers and sisters both near and far?
I have a three-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, Lydia. She recently taught me a theology lesson. We had taken her and her brother to Mission Garden, Tucson’s birthplace. After spending a couple hours chasing them around in the garden, we headed for the book store. I was intent on buying them books to promote learning and appreciation of nature, however they spotted the stuffed animals. Lydia fell in love with a very cute desert tortoise. What’s a grandmother to do? We left with Lydia holding the tortoise close to her heart. On the way home she named the tortoise Tortie and began to sing to it. At first it was just “Tortie, I love you.” Then she added verses like “Tortie, don’t be afraid. I am with you and I will take care of you.”
I was moved by her sweetness and tenderness. And then the theology lesson hit. That is how God loves us. God chooses each one of us, holds us close, sings to us and takes care of us.
And God calls us to do the same to one another.
Love is a one-word definition of Catholic Social Teaching. To love another is to act to preserve the life and promote the dignity of all our brothers and sisters. If we do love all the people on this planet, we who have the privilege to live in wealthy countries will open our hearts to the suffering of people nearby and beyond our borders. We will feel their pain and we will be moved to put our love into action. We will not blame any one or any group of people but rather stand in solidarity with everyone who is suffering.
We will support local charitable efforts with our time and money. We will contribute voluntarily to international relief organizations like Catholic Relief Services. Rather than complaining about our tax dollars being spent elsewhere, we will pressure our own government to allocate more money to poverty-reducing humanitarian and development aid. (Please note that the United States spends about ½ of 1% of the federal budget on this.) We will advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, for peace and for the environment.
We are beginning to understand that the pandemic will not be over until it is over everywhere. The suffering of the world is not going to be over until it is over everywhere. We Christians in the United States can’t really claim to be OK until the whole world is OK.
Jeanette Arnquist is a former Director of the Department of Life, Dignity & Justice for the Diocese of San Bernardino. She is retired and living in Tuscon, Arizona where she remains active in social concerns ministries.