Focus on empathy, not blame

A letter mailed to The Catholic Messenger last week placed blame for the coronavirus pandemic on people whose behavior and actions violate God’s law. As a result, the wrath of God has been inflicted on all of us, the letter writer believes. This is clearly not the teaching of our church. God’s strength, Pope Francis said in his Extraordinary Letter to the City and the World, “is turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things.”

God didn’t create this crisis. God is walking through it with us, on a path where we encounter other people who, like ourselves, long for love, food, water, shelter, clothing, work and connection. Our mission, as God’s followers, is to focus on and to pray for empathy and to abstain from blame.
On-going physical distancing and isolation, job loss and financial stress, loneliness and uncertainty, and a growing frustration at trying to manage life during this pandemic are breeding fear, animosity, suspicion of others who may be infected with the coronavirus, a growing selfishness, and even xenophobia.

Some blame immigrants for the mess we are in, assuming without facts that the immigrants who pick our fruits and vegetables in the field or work in assembly lines in meat-packing plants live in crowded conditions and have poor hygiene habits. In the wake of outbreaks of the coronavirus in meat-packing plants and other industries, some want to blame the workers and not the employers who failed to supply proper distancing and safety measures.

Another group of victims getting blame: nursing home residents. The elderly are more at risk for COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Does that mean they should be willing to risk their lives to get the economy up and running for the sake of the economy, as some of our leaders have suggested? Catholic Social Teaching instructs us that the economy must serve the people, and not the other way around and that all human life is sacred. The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society (www.usccb).

“Our teaching and the words of Jesus call us in this time of global pandemic to care in a special way for the most at-risk persons, including the unborn, the sick, children, refugees and immigrants and the elderly,” states the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Justice for Immigrants campaign. The bishops have issued an action alert calling on Congress to assist the most vulnerable in its next COVID-19 Relief Package.

Among other measures, the bishops urge Congress to provide COVID-19 testing and treatment for all, including immigrant communities and to ensure emergency Medicaid covers testing and treatment. The bishops also call for automatically extending work authorization and visa renewal deadlines for refugees and immigrants who are providing economic and recovery assistance to our country. We can support those efforts by participating in the action alert at justiceforimmigrants.org.

We have come to the point where the corporations that make up the food supply chain are valued over the workers who keep it going, many of them immigrants or families of immigrants. While protecting our food supplies is a laudable goal, and keeping companies open so they can serve as places of employment is important, we cannot meet those ends by sacrificing our ethics.

Empathy, and our Christian faith, compel us to ensure that immigrants and their families are as safe as our families. Are we willing to advocate for reconfiguring meat-packing plant operations and therefore paying more in the meat section at our favorite supermarket?

Empathy and our Christian faith compel us to advocate for the nearly 30,000 DACA recipients who work in various aspects of health care as nurses, CNAs, EMTs. Their futures are in the balance as the Supreme Court is expected to decide soon whether these and other immigrants, brought to the United States as children, will be allowed to continue to live and work in this country. Are we willing to tell Congress to support legislation that allows DACA recipients to become permanent residents? They are not taking away our jobs in a country that needs younger workers to replenish the workforce. Here are some other suggested actions to build on empathy:

• Prayer. Visit the Diocese of Davenport website’s Prayer and Support webpage at davenportdiocese.org/prayer-and-support.

• Education. Go to the Iowa Catholic Conference website (iowacatholicconference.org), the Justice for Immigrants website (justiceforimmigrants.org), and the state of Iowa’s COVID-19 website (coronavirus.iowa.gov).

Pope Francis reminds us that “We can only get out of this situation together, as a whole humanity.” That requires empathy, and abstaining from blame. If we’re honest, the blame belongs on the willingness of our society to sacrifice lives for profit.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor
(arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org)

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