The World Council of Churches in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue have prepared a document on interreligious collaboration during the time of coronavirus. In this article, we bring you the Preamble, focussed on the story of the Good Samaritan, a profound and challenging story of human response to suffering. We include a synopsis of the world situation.
This document aims to offer a Christian basis for interreligious solidarity that can inspire and confirm, in Christians of all churches, the impulse to serve a world wounded not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but also by many other wounds. While primarily intended to address Christians, we hope that it will be useful also to those of other religions, who have already responded to this crisis with similar thoughts based on their own traditions. The global challenge of responding to this pandemic calls us to increased ecumenical and interreligious awareness and cooperation.
The parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Luke 10:25-37) helps us to reflect on the question, “Whom are we called to love and care for?” and offers guidance about the complexities implied in the terms “service” and “solidarity.” Jesus tells this story in the context of the command to love one’s neighbour. When a man is wounded and left by the side of the road, members of his religious community pass him by and leave him unaided. The person who eventually stops and helps him – a Samaritan – comes from a community that has been in dispute for centuries with his community about religious identity, the correct way to worship, and the right to participate in political matters. The story is an invitation to reflect on the need to transcend boundaries in one’s service to, and solidarity with, the suffering. It is also a call to overcome the negative assumptions we may hold and to recognize with humility and gratitude that the ‘other’ (the Samaritan in this case) may show us the true meaning of service and solidarity.
This parable challenges Christians to think about how to live in a world wounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, and by the scourge of religious intolerance, discrimination, racism, economic and ecological injustice and many other sins. We need to ask ourselves: who is wounded, and whom have we wounded or neglected? And where might we be surprised by seeing Christ-like compassion in action? This story urges us to overcome religious prejudice and cultural biases in relation both to those whom we serve, and to those with whom we serve, as we strive to alleviate suffering and to restore healing and wholeness in a pluralistic world. At the same time, it gives us hope that is central to our faith and the way we live it out, when we realize that it is Christ himself, as the unexpected ‘other’ – the Samaritan – who is offering His help to the wounded one.
The Current Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the global community with unavoidable immediacy and with little preparedness on our part. It has dramatically altered everyone’s daily life, and powerfully exposed the vulnerability that all humans share. Alongside the millions who have been infected physically, many more have been affected psychologically, economically, politically and religiously; all have been deprived of public worship. People have struggled to cope with death and grief, especially with the inability to be with their loved ones at their deathbeds, and perform their last rites and funerals in a dignified manner. The lockdown has brought the world economy to its knees, and global hunger could double due to this catastrophe. It has also contributed to an increase in domestic violence. The requirements of physical and social distancing have meant isolation for many people. Despair, anxiety and insecurity have come to dominate human lives. The coronavirus has affected all – rich and poor, the elderly and children, persons in cities and villages, farmers and industrialists, workers and students.
While the whole of humanity is gravely wounded, the pandemic has reminded us of the scandalous gap between the rich and the poor, between the privileged and the underprivileged. In many places, the sick, the elderly and the disabled have suffered most grievously, often with little or no medical care. It has exacerbated racial prejudices and led to increased violence against those who have for long been considered a threat to the dominant body politic that is structured and sustained by systems of inequality, exclusivism, discrimination and domination. People on the margins, especially migrants, refugees and prisoners, have been most affected by this pandemic.
The human misery associated with the COVID-19 pandemic is taking place amid the broader context of the suffering of this planet. Many have called on us to hear not only the voices of suffering humans but also the protracted cries of the earth and the entire community of life on it, which might be aggravated by the economic consequences of a post-COVID-19 world. We can also see this health crisis as a harbinger of future crises relating to climate change and the assault on biodiversity. We urgently need an ecological conversion of attitudes and actions to care more effectively for our world, paying attention to the groaning of the creation.
The heightened awareness of our shared vulnerability is a call to new forms of solidarity reaching across all boundaries. In this hour of crisis, we gratefully acknowledge the heroic service rendered by healthcare workers and all those who offer services, even risking their own health, irrespective of identity. We have also seen flourishing signs of people’s solidarity with the needy, manifested through volunteering and charity. We rejoice that Christians, as well as people of all faiths and goodwill, are collaborating to construct a culture of compassion, reaching out to the needy and the vulnerable with material, psychological and spiritual assistance, at the individual as well as institutional levels. Because we are one human family, we are all related as brothers and sisters and are co-inhabitants of the earth, our common home. Our interdependence reminds us that no one can be saved on their own. This is a time for discovering new forms of solidarity for rethinking the post-COVID-19 world.