, 07 May, 2020 / 1:22 AM
Christians and Muslims in the North African nation of Algeria have sought to maintain interpersonal connections going beyond religion amid COVID-19 restrictions and the ongoing holy month of Ramadan, the Bishop of Constantine told Vatican News in an interview.
“Christians and Muslims live an intense relationship with each other. Both communities are accustomed to fragility, simplicity, and small numbers experienced during this lockdown,” Bishop Nicolas Pierre Jean Lhernould said and added, “Family and neighborhood ties are extremely important in this country, especially during this month of fasting and Ramadan festivities.”
“Maintaining links is therefore very important first of all through prayer because the solution is not primarily the Internet, but to refocus on the essential in prayer and to find the source of communion there,” Bishop Lhernould explained.
He continued, “It is also a question of being close to one another by digital means and through neighborly relations and relations of solidarity with our Algerian friends who are themselves close to those who suffer.”
Algeria, a major oil and gas exporter, has confirmed a total of 4,997 COVID-19 infections including 2,067 recoveries and 476 deaths, according to worldometers.
Authorities in the North African country have also extended movement restrictions for the second time by 15 days until May 14 to help limit the spread of the new coronavirus.
With minority Catholic presence in a predominantly Muslim region, Bishop Lhernould says, “Inter-religious dialogue is particularly at work in this time of suffering due to COVID-19.”
“In North Africa, we say, you never choose your house, you choose your neighbors, and that's what's important. It's really the relationship with one's neighbors, the relationship with our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, that is fundamental,” the French-born Prelate said.
“Paradoxically, the lockdown in certain aspects brings us closer in that it leads to a concern for the quality of the relationship with the other by inventing means that are not ordinary means, which is very touching and which, in my opinion, also prepares fine prospects for the post-lockdonw period,” he added.
As a concrete example of this bond between Christians and Muslims during this period, the 45-year-old Prelate recounted that there is a “sister in our community who has drawn up a list of about a dozen Muslim people, her friends, families and whom she usually meets regularly. And she made the decision to call them every 10 a.m. or noon every day to give news.”
“This is something that allows us to maintain the bond, to feel close and also to break the solitude, which is sometimes heavy because there are people who live in crammed spaces, with families that can be numerous and who are obviously not at all used to these circumstances, especially during the time of Ramadan,” the Bishop explained.
“For us, maintaining meetings in three, four or five is something relatively usual,” Bishop Lhernould emphasized, recognizing that “this period, which affects everyone with full force, is difficult humanly and socially because we are in a society of relationship to the other, which is fundamental.”
He said the lockdown is particularly painful for foreign students “who are confined to campuses with relatively strict measures.”
The Prelate has invited Christians and Muslims in Algeria to follow the example of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo saying, “St. Augustine witnessed so many challenges in his time and at the end of his life, he encouraged communities to stand firm in hope and to be proactive in the face of change in order to bring about other ways of living and functioning.”
According to the Bishop of Constantine, “The real question we must ask ourselves is not how much it will cost us to be able to reproduce what we did before, but how we can be proactive in letting other ways of living emerge in our world from what this pandemic has revealed that has put everyone before its limits, weaknesses, and fragilities,”
“St. Augustine's reflection at the time, in the circumstances he experienced, is a treasure to be able to inspire our own reflection today,” he concluded.
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