A theological reflection on Covid-19 pandemic

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Last Updated (Monday, 08 June 2020 15:15)

How can we say "Peace, peace," when there is no peace?

In the context of the pandemic, how can we say “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace?” (Jer. 6:14) How can we say there is peace, when on June 2, 2020, the Worldometer recorded that there are 6.4 million people had been infected with the pathogen called “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV-2)? Is there peace when as June 2 alone, the current infected cases have reached 3.1 million, with serious or critical cases of 53,403, and 3 million people with mild infections, and 377,473 deaths? The SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus that emerged in late 2019 in China. In January, people were already in a panic mode, scrambling for surgical face masks, hand sanitizers, alcohol, and even toilet paper. Some were hoarding and even stole these items from the shops by bulk. Some leaders complacently denied the existence of the pathogen even as the numbers of death in different countries were rising steeply. The World Health Organization also took some time to act and it declared COVID-19 to have reached the pandemic level only on March 11, 2020. Then, the pandemic declaration has forced those who were in a denial state to wake up and when they did, they declared their territories to be locked down without preparing the people. The fears and frustrations were aggravated by the peddlers of fake news that mislead and distract the attention of people by spreading disinformation. They say that “COVID-19 is not a virus, that it is not real; that the pathogen is really a bacteria.” How can we say peace, when the truth is not revealed? How can we say peace when the revealed truth it is not recognized? In this instance, the prophet Ezekiel’s word is relevant when he said, “They have misled my people, saying, “peace,” when there is no peace” (Ezekiel 13:10).

Some countries mostly led by women, and a few good men, have carefully planned together with experts on how to respond to the crisis with transparency, informed by science, and on how to address the social, cultural, and economic impact of the pandemic. But these are rare and exceptional cases. In many cases, the leaders and citizens ignored the science of COVID-19. During the pandemic, unjust practices make unpeace complicated. The pandemic has surfaced many intertwining and complicated forms of injustices in the social, cultural, gender, race, economic, and political dimensions of people’s lives. The proclivity to racist and xenophobic attitudes emerged. In the Philippines, for example, women and those with mental health issues were vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse by those who managed the check-points. People of color in predominantly white countries experienced bullying and assault. Because of the territorial lockdown, health workers have to walk for hours to the hospitals because there was no public transportation available. Some of them were assaulted by those who misunderstood them as carriers of the coronavirus. We heard of complaints from health workers and other front-liners who did not access to adequate personal protective equipment. Some politicians demanded special treatment by having for the COVID-19 testing done in their homes. Those who are in high public office positions were condoned for violations of curfews and quarantine protocols by partying or going to the beach. And yet, the “law enforcers” easily mauled, imprisoned, and fined the lowly vendors who are trying to eke out a living. Civil society members who distributed goods to the poor, or who held feeding programs were arrested. People who expressed criticisms over irregularities in the policies and manner of giving support to those who lost their livelihood during the pandemic were arrested. Some countries refused to listen to the United Nation’s call to implement a ceasefire. Others continue to ravage the Earth through mining and other destructive activities. The killing of environmentalists continued. In some countries, due to short notice, people were caught unawares of the lockdowns – local or national, found themselves in a very difficult predicament. Migrant workers are in a quandary of where to go as countries of employment did not have safety nets ready for emergencies like the pandemic.

The litany of situations of injustices can go on and on. But the worst thing that happened and still going on is the wanton corruption displayed in these times. Politicians and officials, who are in positions supposedly to look after the welfare of the people, are using the pandemic as an occasion to amass political and economic power. These leaders are taking the pandemic as an opportunity to pass unjust laws to prop up an unjust structure that would allow them to consolidate their insatiable greed for power and wealth. Thus, it is not true that COVID-19 is an equalizer. It has even exposed the glaring disparity among the rich and the poor. It has made the poor and the vulnerable languish even more in poverty, hunger, loss of jobs, and homes. And so how can we say peace, when unjust structures are made even stronger in light of avarice?

Scientists tell us that the coronavirus will be with us for some time and that until vaccines are available, only the non-medical or non-pharmaceutical measures could contain the transmission chain. This means also that standard hygiene practices, washing of hands, social distancing, covering one’s mouth and nose when in crowded places, avoidance of gatherings will still be in place. Subsequently, people of faith are called to do something to ease the suffering of the people and the Earth. Jane Addams said, “Nothing could be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon, and left one unexpended effort that might have saved the world.” Equally important is for all of us to remember our moral obligation for the common good, especially in this pandemic situation. Remember the exhortation of the prophet: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

The pandemic has brought to the fore the real nature and character of individuals, groups, and nations. It has also called upon the people of faith to put that faith into action. Charity is definitely necessary in these times, but the call to do justice, make right what is wrong, and to take a prophetic stance is even nobler. This is what Challenge 21 is all about. Ultimately, YMCA’s Challenge 21 is a call to work for durable peace, one that is anchored on justice. It is not a romantic call. It is a genuine call to be faithful to the good news of Jesus of Nazareth. Followers of Jesus are called to walk the way of justice and peace at all times, pandemic or no pandemic. We must take the ethics of truth-telling, transparency, caring, reciprocity, and solidarity as the foundations of justice. True peace is about the practice and presence of justice among non-human and human citizens of this Earth.

The peace activist and feminist Jane Addams rightly said that “true peace is not merely the absence of war, it is the presence of justice.” The prophets of old knew that justice is a pre-requisite to peace and thus called on the leaders especially to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:23). The challenge of unpeace that the pandemic has brought is great. But the greatest challenge is to face our accountability to God’s people and creation in situations of vicious and excessive injustices in times of public health crisis. When the pandemic is over and hopefully it will be soon, will we be able to say to ourselves, to one another, and God, “Peace, peace,” because we tried our best to work for justice?

~Muriel Orevillo-Montenegro, PhD., ICF Coordinator