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Koinonia in pandemic times

English Spanish Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ Profile

The Pauline epistles and the Acts of the Apostles use the Greek term "koinonia" to express the intense degree of fraternal communion that linked the early Christians. Today we would call it "solidarity."

Thanks to this fraternal love "there was no needy person among them" (Acts 4:34), for they could not tolerate that there should be brothers and sisters in misery. Later, when St. Paul began to establish local churches around the Mare Nostrum (the Mediterranean), he was always preoccupied with taking up collections to help the impoverished community of Jerusalem.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused high unemployment as well as the bankruptcy of numerous businesses. But in some countries, governments have extended a helping hand to those affected. In the United States, for example, the government sent a check for $1,200 to low-income people in May 2020; then in January 2021 it sent them another check for $600; and now the new administration is sending $1,400 to alleviate the situation of citizens in hardship. However, these sporadic checks do not allow many Americans to make ends meet.

The private sector must also be involved in providing relief to the disadvantaged. The State's interest in alleviating the poverty of its citizens is not very old in the United States. The first unemployment check was signed in Wisconsin in 1932. Social Security for people over the age of 65 was introduced by the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935; and Medicare only became operational in 1965.

Interestingly, there are people who have prospered in the midst of the pandemic and not necessarily because of criminal or devious practices. As the saying goes, "it's good fishing in troubled waters."Many businesses have flourished legitimately, for example, the supermarkets; as people visit restaurants less often, grocery store sales have skyrocketed. Not to mention the booming business of mask and disinfectant manufacturers. And so, many businesses are doing better than ever. These entrepreneurs must look after those at the bottom, as some of them are already doing. There are also professionals and salaried workers who have kept their jobs without any problem and who may feel called upon to help those who are in trouble.

History proves that there have always been orphans and widows due to accidents, natural disasters, illnesses and deaths who managed to survive thanks to their relatives or compassionate friends. There has never been a lack of people who take care of the victims or the homeless.

We cannot leave all the burden of solidarity and assistance to governments. Individuals must feel called upon to lend a hand.

Fortunately, God not only softens the hearts of believers to practice fraternal charity. He also touches with his grace all people of good will to come to the aid of their suffering neighbors. What Christians call fraternal love is known in secular circles as altruism or philanthropy. 

This blog was first published as a column in the March 2021 edition of La Voz Católica. 

Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
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