Fr Gerald Gostling
Reports from South Africa
27 April 2020
|Greetings to family and friends, wonderful supporters – keep well, safe, and happy!
I was invited to write something to our Sister Diocese of Brentwood, which I have done, and the following is basically what I shared. I include in this script three pictures – but in many of my visiting at this time it has not been right to take photos; I ONLY do it if they ask because some simply love their pictures taken, but I am careful what and where we share them.
All of you I am sure wear more than one ‘hat’! For these few words I wear my CARITAS hat. I’m very aware that each person and family has their own story to tell and be listened to.
LOCKDOWN and life with no alcohol or cigarettes!
We have been on ‘lockdown’ since midnight of Thursday 26th March and this phase will remain in place until at least the beginning of May. The seriousness of the virus and the affect of lockdown on people’s lives has, like everywhere else, gradually become evident. The rules are more or less like your own in the UK.
However an agonising deprivation for many is that all sales of alcohol and cigarettes have been banned and strictly no drinking of alcohol in public (if you had some stored away). You need to work or live in a Township with related informal settlements such I do to understand why this ban has been put in place, and to experience the culture of the Shebeens or Taverns which you find on nearly every corner in the Locations. Such a ban then has to be Nationwide.
It was also argued that drinking a lot of alcohol can make you less able to fight off the virus if you become infected. With the help of the Military, who have been deployed, this ban and other rules have been strictly observed, and the criminals have crawled into their holes (with a few horrid exceptions). It is essential that communities are not only safe but feel safe.
COMMUNITY SCREENING and TESTING
This started the week before last, that is for the rural areas, the informal Settlements, the homeless, and certain Townships. As this continues we’ll begin to see the real numbers in relation to the spread of this corona virus in the country. Nineteen of our carers and other members of our own Projects volunteered to be trained to help with the Department of Health and take part in this scheme, and at the same time identify individuals, families, child-headed households, sick, elderly and so on, who may be in particular need of assistance. Every household without exception is being visited and all members screened. For an example 20 plus members of the Multi Purpose Ekuthuleni Project in Leslie/Lebohang have been trained and started their visiting last week. I take my hat off to all of them.
NO ONE TO GO HUNGRY
The Department of Social Development, the Disaster Management Team (supposed to be set up in each Municipality area), the Department of Health, cooperating together and with groups and organisations INCLUDING CARITAS and the local communities, are working together to form Teams who will visit every household, with no exceptions, in the poorer areas to know the numbers living in a household at the moment and give them a number to ring, or a neighbour to ring on their behalf, if they are in need of food.
The aim is that within a day or so food parcels will be delivered to their door. In many areas in our Diocese they have already achieved this, and so far the scheme is working well. It is a lot of work and organising but the communities are responding in a remarkable and caring way. There are SO many who have literally no money and no food because of the lockdown and their living conditioning extremely poor, in particular the shack dwellers – but now nobody should go hungry or be lonely.
Love in Action – Izenzo Zotando: As young and still growing up as ‘CARITAS’ is in the Diocese we have been classified as an essential service and so I have been able to get a travel and work permit for our Coordinator, and we have put out the offer in the Diocese to help other key workers and carers to get one if needed as we are encouraging everyone to be inventive in the way they care so that no one gets neglected; to continue feeding schemes for children who are missing their one meal a day at school, food parcels, the soup kitchens etc.
Some fall through the net living by the side of the road
The weekend before lockdown I was able to arrange some workshops for the projects who care for orphans and vulnerable children and youth (little ones grow up very quickly!!) on hygiene, the rules of lockdown, keeping occupied and awareness that children need a lot of love, have time to play, what to do in the event of sickness etc; and then we arranged for the shopping of basic foods, because for example in one of our Project groups we have 63 children to keep an eye on and provide food and some continuing education. Being allowed to continue work it means I am not so locked down as most – I thank God for this privilege and trust in His protection.
I must tell you a story of this small and lively boy – last week I was in an area where most people recognise me but this child who comes from somewhere else was in lockdown with his granny and didn’t know me … he looked at me and kept staring, and then when one of the others asked Ungubani igama lakho? The little one came in immediately and said ‘Corona!’ Pretty obvious that he had been told that the white man brought in the Corona virus. Now whenever I see the child I say ‘Corona’ to him and he smiles and giggles like four year olds do!
MASS and PRAYER and COMMUNICATION
Like yourselves a number of parishes, who have the expertise in the community, have set up live-steaming in the church, mainly via Facebook as this is the cheapest and easiest – the high fliers in other parts of the country, and praise God for them, can be accessed on the web. The Jesuits have provided a huge amount of help by live streaming Holy Week and Easter and providing Mass at 9 am each Sunday, with a good Jesuitical sermon! Here are also numbers to ring if you feel lonely, depressed, worried.
Access to WiFi and having airtime and data is a difficulty in the poorer areas and with poor families. We try to help with data, and it is worth every cent to see a group or family unit keeping in touch with other family members and friends, and also on their knees huddled around a cellphone sharing in and praying during a live Mass or exposition and prayers from the parish church. There will I am sure be massive rejoicing when everyone can again assemble to greet each other and pray together.
I celebrate Mass by myself each morning including Sunday at 5:30 am to be in solidarity with the prayer and Mass that is being celebrated around the world; and then also at 9 am on Sunday, and via WhatsApp or ZOOM give a blessing to some of our groups.
On PALM SUNDAY and HOLY WEEK Bishop Graham and I celebrated together as we are both ‘locked down’ at the same place, so of course we do see each other nearly every day! In fact, Bishop Graham and myself met on Friday (24th) to discuss how we may best respond as a Diocese with CARITAS to this situation. Watch this space!
This is a place, set apart from the Municipality where people may go, for example, to discuss and sort out matters with the local Ward Councillor, usually a grievance or some issue such are we experience at the moment. Then the hope is from ‘war’ to a peaceful resolution!
GOSPEL of the LOCKDOWN
I have as part of the CARITAS communication to the Diocese invited Priests, Sisters and Project leaders and anyone else to share their stories of how they have managed and what has been the local experience in this strange and for so many people difficult time; that is to share the living Gospel of real life.
I hope that the Coordinator and myself will collate the material to produce a Newsletter so that this time is both shared, miracles of grace identified, and documented for history. Meanwhile I will communicate reports and encourage networking to share any good practice that is taking place at the moment to be an encouragement and learning for others.
I also attach a Report from one of our Projects, Ithemba neNjabulo, which Vincent the coordinator would have written anyway around this time. This too shows another small piece of the jigsaw.
God bless you all, with lots of smiles and fun!
Thank you and enjoy your Spring as we move gently into ‘winter’
Uxolo IweNkosi malube nani njalo,
Fr Gerald Gostling 27th April 2020