Christian Churches in Asia are authentic lighthouses of hope and compassion in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. “Churches live and play a crucial role in accompanying suffering people and communities while carrying a message of hope and mercy. Churches are provoked by the suffering of countless people who are influenced by the spread of the new coronavirus. The strength of mind, faith, hope, the constant trust of God inspire us to glorify God in this difficult time. God feels our pain, sees our tears, and takes care of his people”, said the leaders of the Asian Churches who met in a virtual conference of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA). The body, which brings together the major Christian denominations in Asia, including the Catholic Church, has launched a series of video conferences and webinars to discuss relevant issues and challenges caused by the global crisis.
Fr. William La Rousse, Deputy Secretary-General of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), said that “the Catholic Church in Asia works closely with national and local government agencies, in observance of precautionary norms, in the fight against the virus, in the care of the sick”. He later pointed out that “the emergency has generated an innovation in the ministry of the Church, with the widespread use of technology to streamline prayer and worship”.
Another aspect – he remarked – is the commitment of Caritas which in many nations of Asia offers a valuable contribution for a coordinated response to the pandemic, especially for the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable. In several countries, Catholic schools and facilities are used to house homeless people, for isolation and quarantine, and in some cases as residences for health workers, to ensure faster access to hospitals. “The pandemic – he concluded – has highlighted the social inequalities and inadequacies of the political-economic system”.
The CCA Secretary-General, Mathews George Chunakara, said that “the Covid-19 crisis is a strong alarm bell for the world” and that “it broke the myths about global levels of development, which were, in effect, unsustainable”. “The spread of Covid-19 has highlighted our inadequacies in serving the most vulnerable: it is essential to re-examine the role of our Churches in this new world”, he added.
Among the points addressed in the discussion was the witness of faith in the midst of the crisis; the service mission of the Asian Churches; the inter-ecclesial cooperation of the Asian Churches; the spiritual and theological responses to the common suffering of today’s world.
Archbishop Sebouh Sarkissian, prelate of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Iran, said that “the Church continues to encourage the faithful, as hope remains the main spiritual weapon” and emphasizes that “being physically distant, difficult times have brought us closer to one another”.
Metropolitan Yakob Mar Irenaios, President of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Malta, said: “We must not allow the virus to enter our minds. Although the lockdown has been a shock to all, the Churches have mobilized to alleviate the suffering”. The Indian Churches – he observed – have been at the forefront with regards to rescue operations for migrants and day laborers, reaching millions of people.
Bishop Leo Paul of the “Church of Pakistan”, part of the Anglican communion, spoke about the challenges faced by minorities in Pakistan, a country with an Islamic majority, pointing out some episodes of discrimination. The Pakistani people, he warned, “are facing a serious food security crisis, an economic crisis, a social crisis and a psychological crisis, unless serious and concrete measures are taken to improve the conditions of the population”.
Jacky Manuputty, Secretary-General of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (IGP), said that the Indonesian Churches responded promptly and urgently to the World Health Organization alert on the global pandemic, sending pastoral letters to the faithful and raising awareness on precautionary measures to be adopted, but also by mobilizing financial and human resources throughout the country, to face the pandemic, helping sick people, poor families, small businesses.
Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, Secretary-General of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, praised the joint and collaborative efforts of Protestants, Catholics, and Evangelicals in providing relief to affected communities, noting a “compassionate service and carried out with sensitivity and competence”, which was able to reach even the isolated indigenous communities.
Sawako Fujiwara, from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Rikkyo University in Japan, spoke of the commitment of Christian Churches which encouraged “private adoration” in homes, linking it to the monastic tradition of prayer. Christian communities have also developed a new loan system to help small churches support their pastors.
All representatives of the Asian Churches stressed the need to collaborate with other faith communities and civil society organizations to unify aid and ensure support for the poorest, most vulnerable and suffering. “The Church, wherever it is and in any situation and time, is called to be a blessing for all”, they concluded.