Life lessons from a Lockdown Relief Camp, St. Peter's Church - Bandra
by Seby Varghese SJ
I was blessed with the opportunity to spend a few days with the many who were rendered jobless and homeless due to the lockdown. My job was mainly to care for their needs and to make the necessary arrangements for their travel back home. It wasn't an easy task.
At times while admitting persons I was posed with questions like - Is this person a genuine case? What if he or she is infected with COVID? I had reasons for doubt - some were migrants while others were homeless Mumbaikars. While some were asked to leave by their employer, others were staying on the streets or sky-walks for days. At such times the only rule I could follow was - compassion. It also meant taking the risk of unknowingly admitting an infected person and jeopardizing not only those already admitted but also the elderly community members with whom I stayed. To top it all I had to confront my own fears every time I came across a new admission or went to the hospital or the police station.
Now, dealing with so many people and exposing oneself to such risks yet remaining safe - this isn't human. It was truly a miracle - an act of God's protection. One can only wonder and marvel. I had ample time to listen and spend some time with the migrants. While their stories were painful at times, they also taught me to have hope despite all odds. One of them said, "I have to face my destiny. But I know God will provide. If not here, somewhere else." Isn't this poverty? I wondered. They were all strangers, yet they lived as one family for days together, making face shields, helping in daily chores and other works.
The icing on the cake was the sumptuous lunch and shev khurma (made by them) on the occasion of Eid. Our Muslim brothers offered prayers in our own "Catholic" campus. Could the Kingdom of God be any different from this? The moments of deepest joy were when some of them leaving for their homes left back a generous smile as a sign of gratitude. Running this camp for so many people over so many days, with hardly any support from the government, was possible, thanks to the many generous hearts who contributed both in kind and cash. The pandemic and the lockdown have raised many questions about our way of living both as individuals and as a society. But as I walked with these unfortunate brothers and sisters, whose dreams and lives were shattered, I learned my lessons - unwavering
dependence on God and being a human even at trying times.