Cathy Beer reports on how generosity is spreading throughout the world. Shared experiences of COVID-19

[New City Magazine – May 2020, pages 4-6]

When coronavirus first arrived in the UK for real, I was horrified to witness the immediate epidemic of panic which was rapidly spreading as fast as the virus itself and just as contagious, with the resulting exaggerated stockpiling by normally generous people. A man at Sainsbury’s call centre who happened to live outside Glasgow told me on the phone that he was really worried about his baby. In desperation his wife had travelled into Glasgow and was scouring shop after shop for baby milk. But there was none. Customers had bought it all up in bulk as it lasts longer than normal milk. All this sparked by irrational fear.
As I write this, towards the end of March, I hear on the media the heartening antidote to all of this – acts of kindness by individuals, offering to shop, collecting medication, walking dogs for those confined to their homes. Also the actions of volunteers of all ages and all walks of life who have been inspired to help the elderly and vulnerable and to lessen the burden of NHS staff and frontline services.
On 15th March all the major supermarkets in the UK pulled together as if by a magnet drawing them to take action in the shared dilemma – so instead of doing something individually they united to write a letter appealing to all their customers to be considerate:
‘…I’m sure, like me, you are also concerned about those who are vulnerable at this time. Not everyone has the financial or practical resources to buy in bulk, including our elderly customers…  Please think before you buy…  We all have a responsibility to ensure we only buy what we and our families need. If we all do this then we can make sure we have enough for everyone… And please help elderly and vulnerable friends, family and neighbours with their shopping if you can. If we shop as we normally do, our stores will quickly return to normal.’
A week later they went further – sharing solutions, sharing transport, sharing goods where it was lacking. Then they opened one hour earlier for the more vulnerable customers and frontline workers, straight after deep cleaning to allow them to make their purchases in safety.

News from members of the Focolare from GB, Italy and Slovakia:

Where my daughter and her family live, young families have set up a help group for anyone in isolation who might run out of something. They will deliver to the doorstep. For me, this is proof that what Chiara Lubich’s vision of unity reveals, is our true nature. I think this is leading to a new globalisation which isn’t about the financial economy, but about an economy of love.
What we are living is as dramatic as a war. I was thinking that it’s curious that we have celebrated the anniversary of Chiara’s birth with joy (see New City March 2020), and now we must embrace Jesus forsaken, which is another kind of celebration. Perhaps this is the real one. We cannot physically embrace, but we can embrace one another in a different way. We have hope and belief that love wins!   Pat, UK

Today we were told there would be no masses for a month, till 3rd April, but who knows for how long. So keeping the presence of Jesus amongst us is even more precious.
Here we are living something very special because this coronavirus is really transforming our way of life. This Lent we have to abstain from everything. All meetings, small and big gatherings, church services have been suspended… Thank goodness we have this ideal of unity in our hearts. We watch the mass on TV. This gives us the opportunity to have a new relationship with Jesus, to discover him, to be more radical in our love for Jesus forsaken. This is how we are living Lent now. It is a very new and different way. I miss the fact that we can’t go to see each other. Even though of course we try to keep Jesus in our midst at a distance.  Isa, Veneto, North Italy.

If the virus has taught us one thing it is this: in a world that wants to put up walls, nature has shown us that divisions don’t exist.
A virologist in Italy

We live in Novara, 45 kilometres from Milan. We keep asking ourselves: ‘Why has there been such a big impact in Italy, particularly Lombardy with its top-rate healthcare? What will the consequences be for our already fragile economy?’ and again ‘Will we be able to return to England as planned on 16 April? Will we be able to meet our friends?’
And so now we begin the month of March and the Word of Life helps us: ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you’ (Mt. 7: 12).
How many gifts we take for granted, forgetting how precious they are, like the Mass which is not possible to attend. We listen to it on the radio. Everything becomes more sacred.
Even focolare meetings are suspended: but thankfully we can communicate with each other via modern means of communication.
I’m beginning to realize that this ‘slowed down’ life gives me the chance to be more alone with Jesus. It takes away the noise and the bustle, and in this silence of the soul, his voice becomes louder and clearer, helping me to abandon myself to him, to lose all my plans and just be with him – it gives me so much peace.  Rinetta (Italy and GB)

Here in Trent we are living a new experience. We meet up via Skype, we make sure we contact people on a personal basis and we are discovering how all the means of communication are so precious. In this way, we can be close to people in the community and give them encouragement. People are also frightened, especially those who are older. However, we remind ourselves how in the war ‘everything crumbled’ and Chiara and her companions were happy as they went to the air-raid shelters. In the same way we want to be witnesses that God loves us and that it is he who guides history. These are very special times, because we’re tempted to say: ‘Only a few days have passed, who knows how long it will last?’ But we want to stay in God’s will, in this game of love. We are praying that the situation will be resolved soon. We try to help those in difficulty, for example in some of the apartment blocks members of the Movement have put up notices saying if you need anything or if you can’t go shopping, get in touch with us, we’ll do it! It’s a competition of solidarity.
And for me personally I find there is more time – to follow the mass on TV and say my prayers more calmly. It’s an opportunity to be more with Jesus.   Lidia, Trent, North Italy

In this year of the 100th anniversary of Chiara’s birth, so many celebrations and conferences were prepared around the world, especially in Italy. In the end they have all been cancelled. We cannot even go to church or receive the Eucharist.
We are left with two things above all: the Word of God, and to be united. Don’t you find this interesting? Circumstances beyond our control and on a global level have forced us to focus on the Word, just like Chiara and her first companions in the air raid shelters. They possessed only the Gospel and unity. Perhaps this epidemic, with its painful consequences that should not be underestimated, can help us to renew in our lives a passion for the Word of God.   Fr Ludovico, Slovakia

To conclude – How am I living this ‘lockdown’, this self-isolation? I can shut myself away or I can freely open up my heart to whatever the moment presents. I can give all my time to listen to those who ring up to share their predicaments and I can pray. I can distance myself two metres from those I pass in the street on the one walk per day I am allowed, but I can be close to them with a greeting and a smile even if we are on opposite sides of the street and have never met before. It comes as a shared surprise and fleeting moment of brightness. So physical self-isolation does not constrict but frees me in other ways. Maybe I was more in lockdown before when I would pass people without even looking at them.
Of course, the scenario is bound to have changed by the time this goes to print. In fact, it is dramatically changing by the day and changing our lives. The virus of pulling together as one worldwide humanity in a time of crisis will have spread, and in our shared compassion and raw suffering where everything else is peeled away, we are rediscovering our true selves and discovering ourselves as a family.

 [See the article in full PDF edition on pages 4-6]

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