I would just like to start by saying that the situation in Pakistan is very similar to all other countries at the moment. Keep in mind that in Pakistan there are 200 million people. And the country is big – it’s twice the size of Germany.
The confirmed number of covid-19 cases so far is just over 4000 which is a small percentage of the total population. However, if the cases continue to increase, the situation would be disastrous as families here are numerous and three to four families (brothers and their families) live together in small houses. That frequently means about 30 to 40 people living in five or six rooms. You can imagine what will happen if one of them gets infected.
So at the moment the country is in lockdown. Most shops are not open and people have no work – like the rest of the world. However, the poor people, who make up the greater part of the population, depend on daily wages. They spend practically all that they earn with little or nothing saved for unforeseen circumstances.
So a normal family may survive for just a few days without work. They would then start going into debt simply to have enough to eat. As debts pile up, shopkeepers will start to refuse credit. Within a matter of 4 weeks, the family would be staring starvation in the face.
As a community, our first project to help the poor in these times consisted in opening our school and using our computers to apply for government aid. The Government has initiated a scheme to provide a small amount of money directly to each family living on daily wages. We made it easy and possible for the poor in our area to apply by processing there applications for them. Thousands came to apply.
Fr Gerard took some pictures and I put them on Facebook. Immediately people asked me how they could help. The only way I could think of was by using my Revolut visa to send donations. I know a lot of people use it in Malta so I suggested that they send money through it. I thought some people might help.
The response was astonishing, which is what usually happens when you ask Maltese people to help. Many helped, and in 24 hours I collected more than €10, 000. In 48 hours the donations were over €22,000. Now the amount is over €27,000. Amazing.
We’re going out every day to buy food from supermarkets. Some items, like wheat and oil, are rationed. So we go to different places to buy and then return to the house to assemble food packets for each family. Our catechists then deliver the parcels to those families who have been hit the hardest by the lockdown. They know the situation of the families in their area and can do this without attracting attention.
I’m overwhelmed by all this. This was just a small appeal on Facebook, nothing big, but the response was enormous. I’m so grateful.
One last thought, if you permit me. Easter week is going to be celebrated in the community. At the moment, we’re two priests here and two students. Some other people that work in the house might join us but that’s the simple way most of us are going to celebrate our biggest feast this year.
But, this year can teach us that God’s presence is not limited to one way of worshiping or one place – not limited to liturgy and the church. We have always known this but this year the pandemic is forcing us to live what we know.
God decided to take on our humanity so as to share in our sufferings. This year we should understand this better. He is in the suffering of all humanity. He suffered physically only once on the cross but he perpetuates this all the time in us. However, if we have faith we might also see his resurrection in many different ways.
Best of all, this year we can see Easter in the way people help each other and alleviate the suffering of others in different ways. The smiles and the relief in people’s eyes when they see the food – that is truly a sign of the Resurrection in them.
Fr Karm Debattista is a Maltese MSSP missionary currently based in our community in Pakistan.