, 22 August, 2020 / 10:35 PM
The COVID-19 pandemic has become a self-enrichment tool in the hands of the mighty and powerful, according to a Salesian of Don Bosco (SDB) Cleric ministering among refugees in Uganda who has bemoaned the sorry state of the vulnerable groups in the East African country that he says have been robbed of the little they had before lockdown.
In a reflection shared with ACI Africa on Tuesday, August 18, Fr. Lazar Arasu, the Director of Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Services, which provides a safe haven for refugees in Uganda, says that marginalized groups in the country have been worst hit by the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has affected everyone in the world, both poor and rich alike… In many places it has become a political tool in the hands of unscrupulous leaders to coerce people and make gains in their favour,” Fr. Arasu says.
According to him, those who are already in the periphery of the society are pushed more to the margins.
“COVID-19 has robbed the poor of the little that they had,” he laments, and adds, “The vulnerable of the society such as the migrants, refugees, slum dwellers, daily wage earners and all those whose income is only hand to mouth ought to be remembered.”
At Palabek Refugee Services, the monthly food ration has been reduced significantly, a move that the Salesian Priest says has further aggravated the misery of those locked down in refugee camps and settlements.
In his reflection, “Building Hope amidst Coronavirus Epidemic”, Fr. Arasu says that the COVID-19 experiences are an invitation for everyone to be close to the poor.
“In the Gospel of Mark Chapter 14, Jesus said the poor will be with us always. This is an invitation to be close to them, feel their presence and come to know their challenges and deprivations,” he says, and adds, “The poor reveal to us the reality that is around us. They help us to focus our gaze. They teach us how to keep a normal and healthy pace in our life and service.”
The Indian-born Cleric notes that though everyone in the world comes across the poor in one way or another, often, many see the poor by chance, only have a vague glimpse of them or look at them in disgust, a situation he terms “the great catastrophe of our time.”
“When we look at the poor with eyes of compassion and encounter them with a concern, we learn more about ourselves. We need to allow the need and deprivation of others to shake us,” he says.
He further reflects, “We are taught not to get stuck in our own routine life or merely have a glimpse on the realities around us, but we are helped to refocus on our own life. This is the beginning of human sensitivity and the feeling of solidarity with the needy. The poor sharpen our sensitivity and make us more available. This can certainly deepen our love for life and strengthen our faith in ourselves, others and God.”
In his reflection shared with ACI Africa, Fr. Arasu who has ministered in Uganda for over two decades also expresses his concerns about the growing culture of crime among the youth in the East African nation, characterized with a surge in teenage pregnancies, induced abortions and substance abuse.
Other social issues that are raising concern in the country, according to the Cleric, include domestic violence and increasing cases of suicide.
“At this lockdown period moving through the villages and towns of Uganda having schools closed, we see children roaming the streets aimlessly, young people playing Lotto throughout the day, after losing jobs, the mothers and fathers of children seated in front of their homes hopelessly,” the Priest narrates.
He adds, “Due to redundancy, young people have resorted to cheap drugs and drinking local brew to ‘lose themselves’ into passing ecstasy, which will surely only push them to greater misery.”
With schools closed for months, the Cleric has also observed desperation among teachers who he says have even resorted to riding motorcycles and other odd jobs to survive. Still, others have set their dignity aside and are now cooking and selling chapati and pancakes by the roadside.
“This new forced world order calls for serious reflection and deeper analysis and offers appropriate responses to ourselves. Without faith in God and higher values we can be further pushed against the wall. I need to strengthen my faith and strengthen the faith of others, who perhaps are in greater need,” Fr. Arasu says, and appeals for reopening of places of worship in the country to help renew a sense of hope in the people who are suffering.
“It is for this reason restrictions placed on the places of worship needs to be relaxed with proper procedures,” the Salesian Cleric who has been in East for three decades says.
“We all need to ask simple questions: What is happening? Why is it happening? How shall we respond? What does it mean? Even if we become poor in means, we cannot afford to become poor in spirit,” he says.
According to the Cleric, it is possible, through sharing of resources, for the people of God to let go of their comforts and to live simple lives for the sake of those who are in greater need.
“It is a time to make our life as simple as possible, as modest as possible, all in the interest of our needy neighbours. Let our aspiration be, to build One World, One Humanity, for we all have One God who is the Father and Mother of us all,” Fr. Arasu says in his reflection shared with ACI Africa.
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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