Dear Sister Parish friends and family,
We know the coronavirus outbreak is causing disruptions in everyone’s daily life at this point. We wanted to reach out to connect and to let you know what we are doing in the short-term. What do our sister parish relationships look like in the middle of a pandemic? Though the details will change, our essential mission remains the same. We continue to share our joys and our struggles and we unite in prayer and solidarity.
For the moment, Sister Parish is doing whatever we can to flatten the curve while continuing our work. Please also read this letter from our Board President Maria Van Der Maaten. We will not be doing community visits, but we will be available to help with remote communication any way possible. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or concerns. We are available by email, phone or Skype/WhatsApp/Zoom anytime. And please continue to share your prayers, your worries, your hopes, and your love with your brothers and sisters in the south. They want to hear how you are doing and connect in any way possible. In the short-term, we will:
- Reach out to U.S. communities about the possibility of providing emergency aid if/when it is needed. Right now, we are already seeing an urgent need for food and water in the urban communities in Guatemala due to the social distancing measures.
- Continue to exchange prayer requests, letters, community updates, and videos, as well as help organize calls by Skype or Zoom.
- Keep you posted and include all of our communities as we develop more long-term plans for the organization.
- Evaluate our scheduled delegations on a case by case basis as the situation progresses. We have already cancelled or postponed our March, April and October delegations. This, of course, is a drastic change in our work and in our annual budget. We know that some are facing economic hardship right now, but if you are able to continue to support us financially, we would really appreciate it.
In terms of an update from Central America, as you all know, the health care systems here are not equipped to deal with a pandemic of this nature. In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the governments in El Salvador and Guatemala have closed schools and non-essential businesses. They have also banned large events, most international travel, and public transportation, and declared curfews or mandatory quarantines. A huge percentage of the population, however, depends on their daily wage in order to eat, creating a heartbreaking tension between slowing the spread of the virus and feeding a family. Both Guatemala and El Salvador have passed economic relief packages, but many fear they are insufficient to meet people’s needs. This virus will expose all preexisting inequalities and other deadly “pandemics”, including racism, hunger, malnutrition, homelessness, lack of access to water, and lack of access to health care. This is, of course, also true in the U.S.
What are our members in Central America saying about their experience?
- Miriam from Guatemala says, “Please pray for all of us. We don’t know the way out or what to hang on to at this point. Our only hope is God. Many of us are affected by the economic impact already, just at different levels. Faith in God is the only thing that can help us. We will pray for all of you – you are in the same situation. Maybe we are experiencing this in different ways, but we have many of the same feelings. We are all feeling shut up inside. We are all worried about what will happen. It is so good that we are united in prayer. We feel stronger and closer to you. We know we are not alone.”
- Consuelo from El Salvador says, “Families are very worried about the virus because our health system has very little capacity to provide adequate care for an epidemic like this that is advancing so quickly. People here also have a lot of family members who are migrants (in the U.S.). The situation is very difficult for them because their workplaces are closing. We know that this is done to prevent more people from getting infected with the virus, but we are worried about how long they can stay in their apartments and we are worried about their health. We are praying for all of our brothers and sisters in the church and for protection for our elders, emigrants, and prisoners. On March 24, a mass was transmitted by audio and we listened to it from our homes. The mass was to commemorate and remember the 40 years since the assassination of Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero.”
In this world, we are all interconnected and we rely on each other in ways that have now been unveiled for all to see. We hold in our prayers those all over the world who are grieving, those who are ill or anxious or lonely. We hold in our prayers those who will face more economic hardship, hunger, homelessness, discrimination, and racism. We hold in our prayers the people who are feeding us, providing medical care, delivering to homes, and cleaning buildings – they are stepping up to care for us all, sometimes without the guarantees or pay they deserve.
In this time of uncertainty and hardship, may we find new ways to care for people in our communities, our families, our sistering relationships, and ourselves. May we rebuild our global society based on the values of equality and mutual care. We have our faith to ground us and we will find new ways of holding each other up. This is what gives us hope. This is how we get through this together.
p.s. Even though international travel is banned to Guatemala and El Salvador, the U.S. continues to deport people from detention centers (some of them have already tested positive for COVID-19). The returning people have nowhere to go but back to their communities (if the communities have not blocked their entrance), easily spreading the virus to communities with no health infrastructure. If interested, you can sign a petition by the Latin America Working Group to ask the U.S. government to halt deportations during the COVID-19 outbreak. There is also a national campaign to free immigrants from U.S. detention centers and limit immigration enforcement right now in light of the health risks posed for immigrants and society at large.