“They took God out of the solution while God is the solution”
Some of the security measures imposed by the government in an attempt to curb the COVID-19 pandemic have directly affected public worship.
In Sierra Leone, doctors and scientists who coped with the onset of the current COVID-19 pandemic have adapted some measures used during the Ebola outbreak to prevent a repeat of the tragedy that killed 3,590 people between 2014 and 2016 and traumatized the country.
During a visit to the international headquarters of the Pontifical Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Foundation in KÃ¶nigstein, Germany, Father Peter Konteh, director of Caritas in Freetown, Sierra Leone, explained that âamong the measures taken quickly included the containment of those infected and the quarantine of those with whom they had been in contact. The country was also one of the first to impose air transport controls and forcibly contain travelers. He also noted that âwith Ebola, it was much more difficult to educate the population because many did not believe in the virus and died by not respecting the security measures. Things are different now with COVID-19: if you tell people to wear a mask, they listen because they know the consequences. “
The priest spoke of one of the hardest moments of the Ebola epidemic, when one of the catechists in his parish fell ill. He and another priest visited him because they had not heard from him for a while. When he arrived, the catechist’s eight-year-old daughter came out to greet him because, she says, her mother and father were “sleeping.” The girl held out her hand, but they couldn’t shake it because they knew it was very contagious. âI had nightmares about this moment,â said Father Peter with great sadness. âShe was unable to understand. We helped her as best we could, bringing her water, foodâ¦ We called an ambulance, but they were already dead.
This story shows the difference between the two viruses. According to the Catholic priest, Ebola was much more aggressive: âCOVID-19 is better known, but Ebola was more contagious. If a family member has coronavirus they can survive, with Ebola it was much more difficult, âhe explained. “We have seen entire families die, including a family of 27.”
“They took God outside of the solution, yet God is the solution”
Some of the security measures imposed by the government in an attempt to curb the COVID-19 pandemic have directly affected public worship, especially community celebrations such as mass. ACN’s project partner explained that âthe measures were unfair because they closed churches, even when we took precautions such as social distancing, reduced capacity, increased number of massesâ¦ while restaurants , schools, etc. remained open. For the priest, âthe government has not understood the importance of the Mass, because God speaks to us through the Word, and the Eucharist is important for the faith. They took god outside of the solution when God is the solution.”
All the while, Sierra Leonean priests brought the Eucharist to homes so that everyone could participate. So, despite the difficulties, âOne of the good things about closing churches was that it brought us closer to the faithful. We met their families and we were at their home. It brought people together, âsaid the priest. âBringing Christ to people is the main job of a priest, so that’s what we did. “
“The ultimate message is that the poor will die”
The ongoing health emergency caused by the coronavirus has exposed some injustices, such as social differences. For Father Peter, “we need a global solution” to this crisis since “the vaccines go to the rich countries and the rich, not to everyone”. According to the priest, when the vaccines arrive, âthe vaccination is done by age but also by social class. The ultimate message is that the poor are going to die.
The director of Caritas Freetown spoke out against these facts because everyone should have access to help. âHuman life is human life and each person is unique. Everyone is special to God, regardless of age, money, or skin color.
âEbola was a big challenge, especially since it was unknown to the world. The global scientific research that was done for COVID-19 was not done for Ebola, especially since it was limited to a particular area, our region, âthe priest said. âThe coronavirus, on the other hand, is everywhere. Vaccines were developed because scientists worked tirelessly to find an answer. “
“We are a family in the faith”
In conclusion, Father Peter Konteh addressed a few words of gratitude to the foundation. âI cannot end without expressing my sincere thanks to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and its benefactors for their support and solidarity. Beyond the financial support, we feel that we are a family in the faith. People are praying for us in different parts of the world. In the midst of hardship, we know people are praying for us and helping Sierra Leone.
Photo: Fr. Patrick Layen George celebrating the Eucharist – celebrating Holy Mass in an empty church during COVID-19
This article was first published by Aid to the Church in Need and is republished here with kind permission. To learn more about ACN’s mission to help the Suffering Church, visit www.churchinneed.org(from the United States) and www.acninternational.org (outside the United States).