St. John Bosco, COVID-19 and a Culture of Indifference
Over the past 16 months, COVID-19 has taken away many securities we took for granted. This pandemic is an opportunity for the Church to grow in virtue and integrity, overcome vices that have plagued the capacity of Catholic Institutions to do good in the world, and restore hope in a culture that is increasingly hostile towards Christianity. As the world struggles to find solutions to address this crisis, Catholic Institutions that are on the frontlines of ministry, education, and outreach, are facing challenges that we as a Church have to address if are going to learn and move forward.
Understanding our failures as a Church and culture
Over the past several decades, the call to holiness, fidelity, and integrity whether as lay Catholics or religious has been stressed again and again in all papal encyclicals, documents of the Second Vatican Council and the apostolic works of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and his predecessors. In spite of such exceptional works of Catholic intellectual thought, leadership, and free resources to form our souls, we live in an age of ignorance, spiritual depravity, and darkness when it comes towards stewardship of our Church and our communities.
For decades, the “talk” about poverty, the need to serve the poor, protecting the family, being good stewards of the environment, and other “injustices” that afflict our culture have failed to bring about a real transformation or change in our attitudes as a culture. This is primarily because the “talk” is divorced from truth, reality, and the sacraments.
This can be seen in poor state of affairs of our Catholic Institutions either rocked by various scandals or giving into ideologies that go against the fabric of our faith. Our ministry to the world must be rooted in the gifts of the sacraments and undertaken by those who are spiritually and intellectually formed. As the people of God, we have to move out of a spirit of mediocrity and superficiality to implement concrete actions in addressing the crisis we are in both as a Church and as a Christian culture. We have to be engaged in active ministry and faithfully live out our vocations.
The sins of intellectual and spiritual depravity must be avoided at all costs to be witness to life and God’s presence in the world. The Church has a God-given obligation to protect human life and fight against darkness. Our Lord, who is the author of the universe itself, has defeated sin, evil, and death, and can liberate us from our own misery through grace and prayer. The witness of an authentic Christian life, a life of virtue, fulfilment, and freedom, is the way forward. This witness must be translated in our attitude towards education, ministry, and stewardship.
The Salesians in India and our Catholic Children
At the turn of the 20th Century, St. John Bosco, a young Italian priest, inspired by the teachings of St. Francis de Sales, established an Oratory where children living on the street would receive education and live-in dignity. The Oratory would restore hope to these children and bring about a change in a culture where poor stewardship resulted in indifference to children, youth, and families. Today, the Salesians are active in 134 countries, operating one of the largest networks of Catholic Institutions established for the benefit of children, youth and families.
The Salesians began the expansion of their foreign mission presence towards the end of the 1900s and continues today, establishing missions, dioceses, parishes, seminaries, schools, and homes for abandoned children.
The Salesians arrived in India in 1906, and have grown from operating an oratory, residential home, and trade school for poor boys, to becoming one of the largest networks of charitable institutions in the country. Providing a safe home for poor and abandoned children, youth, and families, an alternative to a life of hardship and misery. COVID-19 has sadly undermined decades of efforts to alleviate poverty in India and establishing charitable institutions in the country. The pandemic threatens to destroy and uproot such efforts.
With the ongoing pandemic, hundreds of millions of families who are dependent on daily wages for their survival fear for their future and have suffered immensely from lockdowns, the loss of life, and limited social security nets. Such failures have done immense damage to these families who come from working or lower middle-class backgrounds, where most Catholics come from. The loss of life, especially parents and grandparents, undermines the financial security and stability of the family. The loss of income adds immense financial pressure for families to support the education of their children and provide for them. As a result of this crisis, a good number of Catholic youth and children are being severely neglected due to the pandemic, poverty, and poor stewardship.
This neglect is a reflection of our failures as Catholics where institutions created as a safety net to protect the family, children, and the community, have failed to deliver on their promises. As a Church we are called to be stewards, protecting the dignity and sanctity of human life. This call goes against a culture trapped in materialism, moral relativism, ignorance, indifference, and vanity. Today, the Church despite her failures and shortcomings can stand against a tide where children, youth, young people, and families are considered disposable and treated as toys.
Authentic fidelity and action are the only remedies to evils that exist within man. It is this fidelity that is a witness to the inherent goodness of life itself and true Catholicism that is the only antidote in these trying times. It is this fidelity that will demand action to protect those who have been betrayed and abandoned by the world. The welfare of children, young people, families, and the Church are at stake if we fail in our duties and responsibilities as Catholics. This pandemic must be a wakeup call, a lesson to learn from the reality of the human condition and to seek the intercession of a higher authority to help us grow out of these challenges.
This article will be published shortly for a Canadian Catholic Newspaper.