SVD Spirituality and Dialogue with the Poor in Times of COVID 19

Author: Heinz Kulüke, SVD
Subject: Spirituality, COVID 19
Language: English, Spanish
“Finding God among His People” – “Sharing in Solidarity”

With all the pains, hardships, and experiences of darkness during the ongoing pandemic, there are moments of light and glimmers of hope as well. It is oftentimes simple people who remind us of the essentials of our lives and mission.

For over an hour now, the elderly woman has been sitting in front of one of the few stores that are not yet closed and allowed to sell food as the pandemic goes on … Like many of the other beggars who are currently shaping the streets of Cebu, she hopes that someone will give her some money so that she can buy something to eat … I know the over seventy-years-old Johanna … Just as I am about to cross the street and to go to her, I see another woman coming out of the store pressing some coins into Johanna’s hand … It comes to a moving change of scene: Johanna gets up immediately and goes into the store … She comes out again with two small rolls and is just about to start eating when she sees an older, rather down-and-out, emaciated old man dressed in rags begging a few steps away … She goes there, sits down with him and without hesitation shares one of the rolls she has bought… They eat together… They exchange a few words, which turn their faces marked by suffering into a radiant smile … A “ray of hope” caused by “sharing in solidarity” in times of great need … Sharing in solidarity, also here in Cebu, is helping many people to survive in such a difficult situation, unprecedented since the wars …

The Philippines is celebrating the beginning of Christianization 500 years ago. Historians and theologians have presented extensive studies on this elaborating the numerous blessings received gratefully throughout the years. The need for conversion and renewal was pointed out as well in becoming true disciples of the living Lord sharing like Him in word and deed the good news of God’s compassion, care, and love. The future relevance of the church including that of religious orders in the Philippines, as certainly in many other countries around the globe, will depend on whether the leaders, in particular, will summon much greater courage to face the truth and confront massive injustice, which is responsible for the suffering of many millions of people. The way forward can only be a way with the people and among them especially with those on the margins. Sharing in solidarity will play a crucial role in uplifting the plight of the poor.

The coronavirus pandemic, as in many other countries, has also hit the Philippines hard. Since the beginning of the crisis, the number of street people including children as well as people living in our slum communities has increased rapidly. More and more families are vegetating in inhumane situations without any future prospects. In my more than thirty years in the Philippines, I have never heard the word hunger as often as I have in the months since the pandemic began. The situation will be similar in many parts of the world.

What comes to mind is the story of the Good Samaritan. Especially now, passing by cannot be an option when people need compassion, human warmth, love, food, medicines, vaccines, a shelter, and many other things in order to survive. Trusting with deep faith in God, like Fr. Janssen and the founding generation, we as members of the Arnoldus family are called to witness to the good news that with God’s grace we can achieve together what we cannot do alone.

Pope Francis has an interesting observation reflecting on the story of the Good Samaritan. He writes:

“One detail about the passers-by does stand out: they were religious, devoted to the worship of God: a priest and a Levite. This detail should not be overlooked. It shows that belief in God and the worship of God are not enough to ensure that we are actually living in a way pleasing to God. …” (Tutti Fratelli, 74)

Encounters with the poor of this world will not only help the poor but can give new meaning to religious life as well. In face of the misery and sufferings of so many people, as members of the Arnoldus Family, during the ongoing pandemic, we might ask again: What does God/Christ really want us to do? Where can God/Christ be found and experienced? How does God/Christ want to be served? How does he want to be worshipped and celebrated? Like at the beginning of our congregations, answers to these open questions will determine our actions and spirituality.

God has unique ways to guide us and open our eyes “in a time when much is collapsing and new things must be established in their place.” (Janssen) In the time of the pandemic where many churches were or are still closed, it is in the streets and the slums of this world where we can seek and find the living God among His people.

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Father Heinz KULÜKE, SVD, was born in Germany in 1956. Since 1981 he has served as a missionary in the Philippines. He was a professor at the University of San Carlos in the Pastoral discipline and Development Work from 1986 to 2012. He is known for his missionary presence and his support for the people who work with recycling in the garbage dumps of Cebu. He was provincial from 2005 to 2012 and superior general of the SVD from 2012 to 2018.

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