Q: Archbishop J, how will we survive COVID-19? Only through extreme generosity will we cope, through extreme generosity will we get through this as a nation, through extreme generosity will we rebuild and emerge a better people. Extreme generosity is the watchword of the day. It is the call of the gospel and it must be our mantra and mandate.
What we know
At the time of writing, we have seven confirmed cases in Trinidad. The latest research shows the virus can survive in the air for hours in a still room; that droplets lighter than air can stay suspended for a long time.
We already know by the time we begin detecting person-to-person contact, we already have a viral situation way beyond the capacity of the health system. Each infected person transmits the virus, on average, to 2.2 new individuals. The rate of infection is rapid and increasing constantly.
Countries where drastic measures were taken have ‘flattened the curve’; they reduced the spike in infections and slowed the rate of transmission, giving the health system time to respond and adjust to the changing situation.
Consider this, with 110 tests done we have 7 confirmed cases. On Thursday, March 12, we had our first. Five days later, we are up to seven confirmed cases. Without the drastic measures taken we would be in a much worse position at this time. This is an accelerating situation that will not be reversed without prudence, restraint and sacrifice.
The social impact
Social distancing, in its extreme forms, can negatively impact relationships. It can also impact the stability and well-being of many vulnerable persons. The infirmed and elderly are now particularly vulnerable to isolation. They must not be isolated. They need to feel love and care.
In families where the relationship has not been good, or where high anxiety and stress exist, isolation can exacerbate already frayed relationships. Quarantine may have a serious impact on mental health and the stability of individuals and families. We also need to understand its effect on parents confined in a house with children.
My advice: Structure the day. Have times for prayer and eating together; times for family liming and play; times for reading and respecting each person’s space. Have times for family prayer that are ritualised and predictable—for the rosary, reading scripture, Christian meditation and the Examen. A framework of this kind will give a sense of stability. This time, if managed well, offers the opportunity for healing and reconciliation.
This time of challenge will have a greater impact on the poor than the rest of us. Those who were socially vulnerable before will be even more isolated now—migrants, the elderly, those in abusive homes, those without enough to eat or pay their rent. We need extreme generosity from all citizens to address this part of our population to ensure no-one gets left behind. This is vital!
We already know that there is an immediate education fallout. Our children are at home with no school. Some schools can do online classes. Others are not. The situation will impact the poorest children in a very negative way.
That is only one part of the challenge. This entire experience can also cause trauma—overt and silent—in our children. It is important then to create safe spaces for prayer and for them to speak about what they feel. Invite them to take it to God, to trust God, and to trust their family.
No-one knows fully the psychological effect of this traumatic event. We should not underestimate the stress with which we are living. Adults, you should find someone to speak with daily, especially if home alone with your children.
We are only now beginning what may be a long and most demanding journey.
Extreme generosity as responsible citizens
The first generosity to which we are called relates to civic responsibility. We all must play our part. We should not need laws to stop people congregating, to stop corona parties and limes, to get people to observe proper hygiene and physical distancing. We should not need laws to ensure citizens do the right thing. No more panic pubbing and hoarding of food, safety and medical supplies. Catholics have always willed the best for the other, now is the time not just to will it, but to live it.
We, therefore, do not expect businesses to increase prices or to gouge fellow citizens, especially the most vulnerable in our society. Catholic businesses should be serving the community.
To all businesses: Do not take advantage of the poor, the frightened. Let us set an example for the rest of the nation to follow. No unfair price increases.
We will need extreme generosity from business owners towards their staff—from bankers towards those with loans; from landlords towards tenants; from spouses towards each other; from parents towards children; from all citizens towards one another and, in particular, the most vulnerable.
Speak to everyone you know about the impact of COVID–19. Tell them what we know. Tell them about the effects of their actions: that it is up to the citizen to assist in flattening the curve. The alternative is the death of many, including those we care about. We must never get there.
Every citizen in this beloved nation must now play their part to ensure we emerge a better Trinidad and Tobago. We are resilient and generous people, let us now be disciplined people who take our social responsibility seriously.
Finally, I know this is a most difficult time for us as there is no public celebration of Mass. So, as we make sacrifice, for every song you would sing at Mass, please offer a prayer. For every hand you don’t shake, please make a call to a neighbour to see how that person is doing.
Key Message: We are all called to be generous citizens of this nation. With discipline and obeying the norms set out for us we will emerge a stronger nation. With extreme generosity we will emerge a better people.
Action Step: Observe prudence, restraint and sacrifice. But most of all let us display extreme generosity.
Scripture Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1, 5–9