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COVID-19, Chance for Youth to Rise above Troubles, Desperation: Salesian Cleric in Uganda

Fr. Lazar Arasu, the Director of Don Bosco Palabek Refugee Services

The suffering brought about by several months of COVID-19 has pushed young people to desperation, a Catholic Cleric ministering among refugees in Uganda has observed and called upon the youth in the East African country to rise above their frustrations and to start caring for others who are equally living in devastation.

In a statement shared with ACI Africa Thursday, January 28, Fr. Lazar Arasu who oversee  Don Bosco Refugee Services, Palabek in Uganda’s Archdiocese of Gulu reflects on the message that was given by Fr. Angel Artime, the Superior General of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB), to the young people, encouraging them to be “Good Christians and honest citizens of the world”.

It is a message purposely given to youth who have been pushed to loneliness, desperation, loss of education and loss of livelihood, Fr. Arasu says.

“Fr. Angel calls young people themselves to rise above the troubles and desperation and be a beacon of hope to others. This time and this situation will no doubt be conducive to being aware of the suffering of many people and paying attention to the many silent epidemics such as the hunger that so many suffer,” he says.

The Indian-born Cleric says that Fr. Angel’s message titled “Moved by hope: See, I am making all things new” is given to the youth of the world and to the caregivers of the youth at the time of untold sufferings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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For Fr. Angel, it is only solidarity, sharing and finding comfort in God that can give hope and newness, Fr. Arasu says.

“He insists that it is hope that pushes to pick courage and act in solidarity with suffering and sorrow. With hope we are able to see hope amidst suffering, leading us to share with belief that we do not suffer alone, but God suffers with us and shares our pain and sorrow. This makes us to be with the poor and excluded and witness to the Gospel with courage and joy,” he says.

The SDB Cleric who has ministered in Uganda for over two decades notes that the COVID-19 year 2020 has been the year of searching and finding meaning.

“The search ought to be inward rather than outward,” he says, and adds, “It is personal strengthening of our values and virtues. Once we have done that we will be strengthened to reach out to others.”

He expresses the need for change in perspective “from closure to openness, from individualism to solidarity, from isolation to genuine encounter, from division to unity and communion, from pessimism to hope, from emptiness and lack of meaning to transcendence.”

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In his message, Fr. Angel echoes Fr. Arasu’s cry that those on the fringes of society have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.

At the height of the pandemic last August, the Uganda-based Salesian Priest told ACI Africa that the COVID-19 pandemic had become a self-enrichment tool in the hands of the mighty and powerful.

He bemoaned the sorry state of the vulnerable groups in the East African country that he said had been robbed of the little they had before the outbreak of the coronavirus and the lockdown that was implemented to prevent its spread.

“COVID-19 has robbed the poor of the little that they had,” he lamented, and added, “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.”

In a similar message, the General Superior of the Salesians across the globe laments, “If we are invited to keep a safe distance, can we imagine how people crowded into the favelas, the slums, next to rubbish dumps can respect social distancing?”

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Fr. Angel adds, “The loss of jobs is affecting millions of families... mourning that cannot take place leaves millions of hearts in sorrow. Looming poverty (at times hunger) affects, disorients, paralyses and threatens to bury every hope.”

According to Fr. Arasu, the SDB General Superior’s message is significant to the youth, especially during the troubling COVID-19 time.

He says that the youth have a big role to play in restoring hope among the people, with the example of the young people during the time of Don Bosco on whose values, the Cleric says, SDB is built.

“Always the Church stands as the first responder in the society at the times of need and calamities,” he says, and explains, “At the time of deadly Cholera in 19th century in Italy, St. John Bosco together with his boys went around helping victims who were in dire need. Putting his faith in God he encouraged his boys to reach out to the dying though the disease was highly infectious.”

The Cleric invites young people to be aware of lifestyles around them that enrich a few and impoverish millions of others. With such realization, he says, young people should seek to live simple lives in order that others who do not have may also benefit.

Referring to the SDB Superior General’s message, Fr. Arasu says, Fr. Angel “wants the youth to be conscious of the world around them and create a new world of hope.”