Towards the middle of March, when the entire island of Luzon in the Philippines was declared under community quarantine to control the spread of COVID-19, Columban Fr. Andrei Paz was in his hometown, a small municipality in northern Luzon. The people there were experiencing a lot of anxiety in the face of uncertainty about the impact of the virus on their lives, their families and their community. Most of the people, including Fr. Andrei, stayed at home.
Fr. Andrei shared that for a couple of weeks, he kept to himself, prayed, and watched the news. Many Filipinos tried to flee the cities in order to return to their hometowns in the provinces. Some of them had to walk hundreds of miles since public transport was suspended. Many of them were manual workers, daily-wage earners who had been displaced by the lockdown. Eventually, when they arrived at the homes of their relatives, they had to undergo self-isolation because of concern that they might be carriers of the virus.
However, besides the fear that all of us have of contracting the virus, many people there are also worried that they might die from hunger. Daily food is a major concern for those who have no work and consequently no salary to buy their necessities. Among those hit the hardest by this crisis caused by COVID-19 are those displaced workers and their families. Although local governments are sending them some supplies, they are insufficient. As a result, some people are desperate.
When some of his friends asked Fr. Andrei what could be done to help to alleviate this desperation, Fr. Andrei came up with the idea to give bags of groceries to those who were suffering the most: indigent families and displaced workers who were family breadwinners undergoing two weeks of self-isolation. With very little resources, yet trusting in divine providence, Fr. Andrei and friends requested food supplies from other friends who own rice and grocery stores with the promise that they would pay them later. Thanks to their consideration and kindness, Fr. Andrei and his friends were soon able to begin packing grocery bags in his family home, taking precautions and following social distancing guidelines.
Within a short time, and with the support of family and friends, they were able to raise sufficient funds to cover the cost of the first batch of groceries, which they then distributed. Then, to Fr. Andrei’s great surprise, he started to receive messages from neighbors as well as from strangers, asking him to pick up various foodstuffs and other household items - a reminder of the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish! Each grocery bag contains three kilograms of rice, a bar of anti-bacterial bath soap, and assorted canned goods, all of which costs roughly $6.30 (U.S.). It may not seem much, but it is the hope that it will let people feel that they are not alone in facing this crisis, and that others are concerned for them. They are hoping to continue distributing bags of groceries every two weeks until they run out or until this crisis is over.
Around the world, all of us are fearful, yet also hopeful that this crisis will end soon. We remain mindful of the health and safety of ourselves, those around us, and front-line workers. We continue to pray for the recovery of those who are ill, for the repose of the souls of those who lost their battle with COVID-19, and for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones. And, we do what we can to help those whose situations are worse than our own, one small bag of groceries at a time. As a Columban mission benefactors, bringing hope is what you have always done and continue to do so faithfully for our sisters and brothers in the missions.