Key Workers, COVID and faith - interviews by SJBC 6th Formers

Key Workers, COVID and faith - interviews by SJBC 6th Formers

Posted: Mon, 14 Dec 2020 14:48

Key Workers, COVID and faith - interviews by SJBC 6th Formers

SJBC Sixth Form students interviewed a range of key workers from across the world for their 'Faith Matters' magazine, to ask about their experiences during the pandemic, and the impact their faith had during the crisis. The workers included a nurse in Nigeria, a cleaner in Germany, and a teacher in Jordan. With kind permission from the Faith Matters team, we reproduce the interviews with Salesian priest Fr David O'Malley who worked in a community project in Battersea, and Graham Thomas, Head of Design and Technology at Salesian School, Chertsey. The interviews were conducted and written by Jamia Semwanga Kikomeko, Laura Pereira and Tiffany Rodriguez Fernandez.

Name: Fr David O'Malley
Country: UK
Occupation: Salesian Priest

How would you say this pandemic has impacted your lifestyle or faith?

COVID has slowed me down. Many of my meetings and deadlines disappeared very quickly. At first, I tried to keep up my normal pace of activity but eventually I slowed down and despite a bit of guilt about doing less I actually enjoyed the more relaxed pace. I also stayed put and have not travelled. That meant that I got to know the local area better with lots of short local walks. As a community of 14 brothers and priests we have also been able to spend more time together and enjoy longer mealtimes.

My faith has been strengthened because COVID has demonstrated how interdependent and vulnerable we all are. Even the toughest of us can be brought low by a virus that could fit in 1-millimetre 2000 times. It reminded me that no one is really independent or that tough. We need each other. Our church talks about "the communion of saints" and the fact that we are all connected to each other at a deep level as human beings. What I do has effects on others: if I choose not to wear a mask, others may suffer. If I forget to sanitise my hands someone I may never meet may die. As the bible reminds us, we really are our brother's keeper.

How did you feel when helping these people through Battersea Coronavirus Angels, although you were putting your own life at risk as well?

Angels was a great experience of community in action. It is on hold right now waiting to start again if there is a second spike in COVID. We recruited through Sacred Heart Parish, St Mary's and the Katherine Low settlement. Eventually 440 people came forward and generously gave their time to shop, pick up medicines and befriend the isolated people of the area. The befriending network is still going on because loneliness is the hidden problem in Battersea for many people.

The volunteers, including myself, felt that it was a privilege to do this work right from the start. We wanted to serve others needs, and did so with compassion and self-sacrifice. What surprised many of us was that doing the work, taking risks and sacrificing time actually helped us too.

Serving others brought us peace, a sense of well-being and somehow, we were more ourselves as we moved the focus off our own lives and focused on others. It seems that we are made to support others, to give our time and energy away. It's almost part of our DNA. The risk factor faded from our focus once we had established safety procedures in contacting people in need.

COVID-19 has impacted many people's lives both socially and psychologically. What advice would you give citizens who live in fear as a result of this pandemic?

People need to watch the news no more than once a day otherwise their thinking about the pandemic will slip into too much fear. Even at the end of June only 4% of the population had been affected by COVID and yet the news coverage did not present that balanced view.

Take good precautions, follow the guidelines and get on with life is what I would advise. The trouble is that some of us who are naturally anxious absorb fear from the daily coverage in the media and can be paralysed by the stories that are broadcast.

Socially many people have become isolated and for a certain percentage that leads to a lack of
self-confidence. Their normal support That is why befriending has become the ongoing concern for Angels who will reach out to the isolated, engage in conversation, share common interests and re-connect people to the human race. Such conversations are life-saving. Psychologists are predicting that there will be a significant rise in fear of going out (agoraphobia) as restrictions are lifted.

Again, it underlines the point that the book of Genesis makes - "it is not good for man and woman to be alone." Some commentators say that COVID has uncovered a need for government to do more to support local community, creating more amenities, places to gather and to support voluntary organisations like Angels. It will be interesting to see what might happen when COVID eventually fades away.

Do you think this pandemic will lead to people losing their faith in God as a result of the loss of family members and friends?

I think that the pandemic has raised a lot of questions in peoples' minds and set them thinking about what really matters. It has created a space to re-set their priorities in life and see what changes they could make.

The experience of death, whether within the family or down the street always makes us think. We live for only 700,000 hours and then we are gone but we often hide from that fact. The bible tells us to remember the shortness of our lives if we want to gain wisdom.

So, death brings us up against the mystery of life and has the capacity to deepen our spiritual and religious lives. Some of us will choose wisdom and some of us will choose despair about the future. We all have the same facts about COVID and the realisation of many deaths but each individual will choose their response.

That choice is called faith. The faith is first of all in life; a life that has meaning, a life that is mystery, a life that is fascinating and also painful at times. That mystery is what many of us call God. So to trust in God is to trust in life whatever our religion or lack of religion. The Catholic faith tells us that death is never the end but part of a deeper process that moves from cross to resurrection. I think many people have re-engaged with that view over the pandemic because the numbers attending online services across all faiths has increased beyond pre-COVID levels.

What words of comfort could you give to people who have lost loved ones during this pandemic?

A child went into his mother's bedroom to find her crying over the death of her first husband on that day some twenty years earlier. The child asked why she was still crying after twenty years. The mother replied that it was because love never dies. That sentiment is captured in the Catholic funeral service that reminds us that "the ties of love and friendship that hold us together in life are not broken by death."

There is a deep intuition in humanity that love is stronger than death and whatever is turned to love never dies. That is why many people still talk to those who have died, sensing a mysterious connection that goes deeper than normal logic. So, I would say to anyone who has lost family or friends, talk to them, express your love, be grateful for their lives and tell them that you will see them again when our short lives are over.pattern has gone and they become more prone to moods, their energy drops and they lose direction.

Name: Graham Thomas
Country: UK
Occupation: Teacher


(In response to the five questions asked of him, Graham Thomas chose to give the fuller account reproduced below.)

I will try and explain what I did along with a willing team of helpers!

When the COVID outbreak started to take hold, it was clear from news reports that there was a severe shortage of visors for front line workers. I knew then that I had to do something to help. Unfortunately we had just had a water leak in the department and the electricity had been switched off until the damage could be repaired.

So I designed a visor at home, making paper prototypes to check size and fit. Once I had a design that could be made effectively and with permission to go into the department from the insurance company, I decided to make a first prototype using the laser cutter to cut out the plastic shape. Unfortunately the first prototype started to warp as it was being cut, so it was back to the drawing board to develop a new design. The second design made use of a very tough and flexible material called polypropylene for the headband with a clear visor from PVC. Fortunately this design worked and on that first afternoon I made a batch of 20.

Once the department heard of my efforts, I was overwhelmed by the support, leading to a production line of people, suitably distanced apart, who cut out and then assembled the visors. We developed two different designs, one with a tough front visor, and the second which was much quicker to produce with a lighter and more flexible front screen. Within days we had got up to hundreds of visors, with money for the materials coming in from parents and friends of the school through a funding page set up by Pippa Carr, the Headteacher's secretary.

It was so pleasing to see the various people coming to collect the completed visors to take back to their hospitals and care homes. We managed to supply all those that needed them within days, a great example of teamwork at Salesian.

I think the ethos and faith values of the school in caring for those all around us really came into action at this time. It certainly made me, and all involved, very pleased to feel we could do something to help those in need and to show our support and thanks for all those in the NHS were doing under very difficult conditions.

Since I joined the school in 1980, I have felt aligned with my own faith and that of the school, it's as if I feel at home here, and after 40 years, I still find that very reassuring.

Jamia Semwanga Kikomeko, Laura Pereira and Tiffany Rodriguez Fernandez.

To subscribe to Faith Matters, please email faithmatters@sjbc.wandsworth.sch.uk

Tags: COVID-19, Homepage, Salesian Schools, Salesian Youth Ministry, Salesians of Don Bosco