, 12 June, 2020 / 10:00 PM
Many people who have been worst hit by COVID-19 including those living in isolation, those separated from their loved ones and those who have been stripped off their sources of livelihood have one thing that is keeping their hope alive: the end of the coronavirus and the related restrictions.
But according to a Catholic Missionary Priest ministering in Swaziland, people should observe a high sense of self-discipline and love for their neighbors even as they learn to live with the “new normal” created by the pandemic as governments across the world start relaxing regulations that were earlier put in place to minimize the risk of contracting the coronavirus.
“In many countries that have implemented different levels of lockdown, there is a group of people waiting on when the government will tell them that the lockdown is over, that everything is now fine for them to go back to their normal ways of lives. This kind of longing could only lead to the worst form of disappointment,” Fr. Francis Onyango ministering in the Catholic Diocese of Manzini in Swaziland tells ACI Africa in an interview on Friday, June 12.
He adds, “Of course the pandemic will come to an end on some day we don’t know. We can only hope. But we shouldn’t live waiting for such a day. We should start reflecting on how to live with each other with the virus around.”
It is a timely message in the Southern African country that has reportedly relaxed lockdown rules, with many people resuming their normal lives in complete oblivion of the danger they still face.
“The government here has started relaxing regulations and people can now sell in market places. Bust shortly after the government relaxed lockdown rules, Swaziland recorded the highest number of COVID-19 infections,” the Cleric says, adding that on Thursday, June 11, COVID-19 cases skyrocketed to 51 in a single day, up from less than 20 cases the country recorded in a day before relaxing the regulations.
The Consolata Missionary notes that staying at home as a means to avoid contagion has brought boredom, frustrations, fear, anger and uncertainty to many people.
Some families, according to Fr. Francis, are already experiencing tension and violence even as some marriages collapse as people struggle with the challenges brought about by the coronavirus.
“Nobody knows with certainty what will happen next,” he says, and adds, “There are a myriad of questions brought about by the challenges of the COVID - 19 pandemic; questions whose answers are as uncertain as the future itself. Questions like, when will the church be open? Will life get back to normal? How safe are we outside there? How long will the lockdown last? What will happen to our studies? What about the exams and what of our graduations? Will we still get our jobs back?”
There are many more people who the Kenyan-born Priest says “see the current situation like music that has only been paused, and that at the end of the pause, we will simply press play and continue dancing from where we left.”
In a reflection shared with the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA), the Consolata Missionary Priest observed that COVID-19 had brought in “a new boss who now sits on the same seat where Normal used to operate from.”
“The new boss is the New Normal; he has no idea of what our former boss allowed us to do or not to do and he doesn’t care; he only demands two things from us if we are to get along with him: the love of the neighbor and self-discipline,” he said.
Self-discipline, he says, demands that people observe all the safety regulations that have been put across by governments to avoid getting infected by the virus and infecting others.
“It (self-discipline) demands that we keep social distance not because the law says so but because it is for my own good; it calls for continuous washing of hands and sanitization not because someone is watching but because I know it is the right thing to do. It calls on me to avoid crowded places not because I don’t want to mingle but because it is my health at stake here,” the Priest says.
Love of neighbor, the Kenyan-born Missionary Priest says, calls for protecting each other, especially the sick, the aged and those with weak immune systems.
“It is the love of a neighbor that will push me not to go to church or attend other gatherings when I have flu-like symptoms,” the Priest who has been hailed for keeping members of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Paris in Manzini engaged during COVID-19 lockdown says.
He adds, “I don’t stay home because I have nowhere to go or nothing to do, and not because I am antisocial but because I care about other people! This is a godly and a Christian act – even if staying home means missing a church service it’s the right thing to do because it is done out of love for the neighbor.”
The love for neighbor, he says, should make the employers and companies not just to focus on how much profit they will make but rather how safe and protected their employees feel while at work.
“Protecting each other’s lives should be our primary goal,” Fr. Francis says in his June 10 reflection published by IMBISA.
He says that where one considers themselves healthy with a strong immune system, thought should be given to other people who are struggling with weak immune systems including sick people and the old.
“We should not be focusing so much on when will the lockdown end or when will coronavirus end,” he says, noting that the lockdown directives in many parts of the world will be lifted even with the virus still existing, underscoring the need for everyone to embrace self-discipline and love for the neighbor.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa