3 December 2020
You, Lord have given all that to me. I now give it back to you, O Lord. All of it is yours. Dispose of it according to your will. Give me love of yourself along with your grace, for that it enough for me.” Sp. Ex. 234
As we have begun the season of Advent, I want to wish you a joyful Christmas and a new dawn free of the current health crisis in the world. You have been very much in our prayers throughout this year when the humanity was brought to its knees by an invisible enemy. We are indebted to your prayers and the much needed financial support in spite of having difficulties yourself. We remembered you and your family members during the Eucharist celebrations we have had. May God shower upon you, abundant blessings and good health!
The spread of covid-19 virus has brought untold miseries to humanity. It is a setback for the progress of nations. In India, the misery has been magnified a thousand fold due to the already crumpling index of the quality of life. The lockdown clamped by the government affected the poor most. The migrant laborers began returning home. It often brought tears to our eyes seeing the migrants walking on the highways. Many walked weeks to get home. North Bengal has a large percentage of people working in other states of India as manual laborers. All our works were affected, schools and colleges were closed down, and pastoral activities were greatly reduced.
In terms of ministries Jesu Ashram was badly affected by the pandemic. It had to close its gates for new patients coming in, in order to protect the one hundred and fifty patients whose immunity is critically low. However, the Jesu Ashram staff reached out to far flung tea gardens and villages with medicines and food kits. Special courses and programs were conducted by voluntary doctors at Jesu Ashram on how to prevent the spread of the virus. In spite of all the precautions, twenty-one people were diagnosed with covid-19 in Jesu Ashram, six Jesuits, two FC Sisters, nurses, nursing students and patients. In fact the work of Jesu Ashram came to a standstill during those days when the entire the administration of Jesu Ashram was down with covid-19.
Ten Jesuits of our province were affected with covid-19 virus, six of them at Jesu Ashram, three at North Bengal St Xavier’s college and one at Loyola school, Uttar Salbari. By the grace of God, all of them recovered.
The hope that I want to share with you is that Darjeeling Jesuits, with your generous help, have been able to reach out to the poorest in the tea gardens and villages with food and medicine kits and helping the poor to cultivate paddy in vacant government land mainly through our social institutes – Jesu Ashram, SASAC, Hayden Hall and HLDRC. HLDRC was at the forefront in reaching help to the needy in the entire North Bengal.
In the educational field, on account of the pandemic, the Province found it very difficult to pay the salaries of teachers in a number of schools as they, with the closure of tea gardens during the lockdown period, could not collect even the small fees from the students. But with the support received from a couple of our well-to-do institutions and a few donors like you in the form of scholarship to the students has helped us to prevent dropouts from schools and enabled us to rekindle among the economically affected families a hope for their children.
The pandemic impacted most severely on people in all our Jesuit parishes as well. It is the consciousness of suffering brought the faithful and the people of goodwill together in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who were suffering. The courage, compassion and generosity of these people in reaching out to the affected with their meager resources have been indeed uplifting and inspiring.
In the light of the above our preparations for Christmas invite us to live each day in the light of Jesus’ vision. We are called to find Him in the most ordinary experiences of daily living – in the people we meet, the events that take place, and the situations in which we find ourselves. Advent reminds us to make carefully our daily choices for God with kindness and forgiveness; to direct our thoughts, intentions, actions and responses solely to His love and service; to seek, to find, and to respond to Him in every single experience each day with Hope, Faith and Love.
As we prepare ourselves to celebrate the supreme gift of a person full of grace coming and dwelling in fragile flesh, may this God of ours continue to speak into human reality to transform it from within!
Wherever you live, whatever situation you are in, I wish each of you and your families a very happy Christmas. I hope that during 2021, whatever the year ahead brings, God will irradiate your lives with his presence and his peace. In the context of the prevailing pandemic, let us not ‘pass by on the other side’, but, in the example of Christ, open our hearts and reach out our hands in response to the great need of our disadvantaged brothers and sisters.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year!
Fr John Wilfred Lobo, SJ
Darjeeling Jesuit Province