Many people had worked together from St George’s parish and beyond, to organise a day of celebrating sharing God’s love. We had things lined up and people had been invited. We were ready to gather together as the people of God to celebrate together. What a different world we live in now! No longer can we gather as a physical faith community. No longer should we meet together, even for prayer.
In such a situation – sudden, life-changing, worrying – we might be feeling overwhelmed by the helplessness of it all. A few days ago, we were allowed out – now we’re not. We understand why – it’s vital that we are distant from each other to slow the spread of the coronavirus and thereby help the NHS and save lives.
Cardinal Nichols said this week that by staying at home, we are doing our Christian duty. He said: “we need to be good citizens playing our part in the protection of the vulnerable,” because every life is precious to God. This is really important and “the right thing to do.” We know that there are many vulnerable people who need our practical support, so what might we be able to do for them while we’re at home? As Christians, we want to do something to help, but while we’re stuck indoors, where can we turn for inspiration?
Catholic Social Teaching supports us in our desire to help in times of crisis and there are many ways in which we can do just that.
The more senior members of our community will remember how they supported each other through World War II. We have a lot to learn from them! The world is a different place now – we have the internet and that’s a great place to start. The social isolation that we’re being instructed to observe can be mentally and emotionally damaging for some. As internet users, we can be instrumental in bringing people ‘together’ virtually online, on social media, by using a video link, even a simple email to check that a friend is ok could get them through their day.
I’ve decided to call at least one person each day to say hello. It will help me to stay connected, as well as them. Perhaps we can call our more senior friends and ask for advice on getting through this! We can share links to helpful things to do (I’m singing with Gareth Malone every day at 5.30pm).
There are many help groups popping up on Facebook, offering shopping for those in isolation. You can, of course, invite your friends and neighbours by phone, to contact you if they need help.
If you would like to help financially, there are many organisations which would welcome your help.
These organisations will route funds to where they are most needed nationally and locally:
Norfolk Community Foundation, will route funds to where they are most needed
You might, in that past life of just a couple of weeks ago, have been supporting your local homeless charity. Some parishes have a history of collecting items to pass on to somewhere locally. As that’s not an option at this time, donating online can mean they are still able to support these people. There will be homeless charities which you can find online, across the diocese. St Martin’s Housing Trust is my local option in Norwich.
Foodbanks are desperately short of supplies, as people began stock piling, fearing the worst and looking after only themselves. If you are able, please consider sending a donation, or if you are in a supermarket, you can donate goods there, but please don’t go out just to do this. We reiterate Cardinal Nichols’ important words, that it is the right thing to do to stay at home. However, Foodbanks also need volunteers to sort, collect and distribute supplies to the vulnerable. Your local Foodbank would welcome any volunteers getting in touch.
The Trussell Trust run Foodbanks across the country and they are looking for more volunteers to help through this time of crisis, to sort, collect and deliver goods. You can register to volunteer your services here.
Those we consider to be most in need ordinarily will be particularly vulnerable in these abnormal times. Migrants and refugees are amongst the most vulnerable in our society. Bishop Paul McAleenan has called on the government and the Catholic community to keep these people in mind and support them: “Catholic charities are doing all they can to provide support for migrants, refugees and others in need in the present crisis. Through prayer and through contributions to these charities the Catholic community and all people of goodwill can offer help to those who need it.”
You can donate to the Jesuit Refugee Service UK here.
The UNHCR has also set up an emergency response. Online donations to support refuges will be welcome.
Action for Children is a charity which supports the very poorest families in our society. Any donations online will help with basic necessities.
Another way we can help from home is to pass on information to people, so they know where to get help. Please pass the following links on to anyone you know who may find these useful:
For those families who are entitled to free school meals, there is help here.
The major energy suppliers are also working out how they can support those who find themselves in difficulty through this time. Please visit their website for more information.
Local councils are setting up support networks. You can go on your local council website and sign up to offer support, as well as being able to ask for help.
You may have heard that the NHS is calling for a ‘volunteer army’ to play a supporting role in various ways, including driving patients home from hospital, to speaking to isolated people by phone. There are several ways in which you can help and you can register to volunteer here.
Praying as a community is important, especially in difficult times. We can hold each other in prayer and find great comfort there. We can unite with our Christian sisters and brothers all over the whole world to ask for God’s protection and presence. Parishes are beginning to find beautiful ways of facilitating this. Do visit your parish website to connect with your community. Then, if you are well and you are able, find a way to reach out to the poor and vulnerable to give them God’s love from a distance.
At these times, it’s really important to share our journey. Please contact me with any stories you have of how you’re supporting those in need and any information you have on how others can help, so we can share our knowledge and encourage one another. If you’re involved in any projects supporting friends, neighbours, or the wider community, do let me know. I would also like to gather ideas on what people can do to keep themselves busy and physically and mentally active in their own homes.
Do contact our diocesan communications director, Keith Morris, with any stories you’d like to share. Your efforts may inspire someone else to do likewise.