How they see it and how it has affected them

By William Sequeira, SJ

“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven” proclaims the Book of Ecclesiastes. (Eccl. 3/1). If that is true, then there is a time for a pandemic too.

As of now, we are fully aware how Covid-19 has impacted the entire globe and turned the world topsy turvy. Since its inception the entire human community has found itself vulnerable to an invisible enemy. An enemy that does not make distinction between nations and cultures, rich and poor, educated, and uneducated, beggars and corporates, employed and unemployed, sellers and buyers. Suddenly, everyone is found to be going through anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. Children are frightened, adults are scared, senior citizens are terrorized. The entire family-unit has become an abode of tension and stress not knowing how to cope in this world of new-normal which is in fact abnormal!

When the first wave ceased and the second began, the effect has been lethal. If one thought that the pandemic has not touched me or touched my family the second wave assured that its effects are felt practically by everyone regardless of boarders. Millions contracted the virus world-wide. Nearly four million have lost their lives. The world is anxiously watching to know if a third wave would strike and if it would attack children. The fear is in the air. Families with infants have become tense and worried. Many a youth are disturbed.

One of the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus for the years spanning from 2019 to 2029 is walking with the youth. If we Jesuits are going to accompany the youth, we must know their plight in this situation of the pandemic, their coping mechanisms, their understanding of it, and their struggles at this point of time.

Youth is a time of dreaming, imagining big things:  education, a brilliant career, fat salaries, marriage, enjoyment, achievement and so on. With the onset and the subsequent domination by the pandemic, the youth find themselves in the doldrums, not knowing how to proceed, how to cope with the new normal.

Yet youth have an inner drive. They are charged with innate energy. For the bright and the well off, Covid – 19 has come as a blessing. Many have taken to online learning, joined crash courses, and picked up new skills. Besides, they have been experimenting with different creative ideas, like eating home-cooked food, cultivating kitchen gardens, doing yoga, exercising, watching movies, playing computer games, engaging in artwork, drawing, painting etc. Some have found solace and comfort in meditation, pranayama, and various forms of prayer.

In contrast, life has been very hard for the poverty-stricken unlettered youth, deprived of opportunities, especially those belonging to the unorganized sector. Their life has been one of misery and despair. Their dreams have been shattered. Their plans have gone with the wind. Many have become victims of depression. Some have taken to crime to eke out a living.  Some have taken to smoking, drinking, drugs, gambling, and watching pornography. Unemployed youth are a common sight. Thus, the situation of youth from poor families has become pathetic.

It is quite intriguing to know how the youth understand this pandemic. An informal survey of their perception of this pandemic is very revealing:

  1. A bio-war: Just as we have wars across the globe where one country attacks another, this “man-made” pandemic is a biological war among power mongers/rulers to show their supremacy over other countries.
  2. A David and Goliath standoff:  David, a small boy, killed the mighty Goliath. Likewise, a tiny organism has managed to vanquish the world.
  3. A Storm-cloud: Even though the storm clouds disappear in the course of time, they make the weather depressive for the moment. So too the dark clouds of this  pandemic have brought about darkness and gloom all around and affected every sphere of life (Fratelli Tutti). The covid situation has exposed today’s India. The misrule has caused a down swing both in GDP as well as in employment. This, in turn, has affected intensely the youth who were hoping to find jobs. 
  4. A freedom fighter:  As each individual fights for one’s rights, the Corona Virus is fighting for the rights of nature. Human selfishness and greed have turned this planet into a garbage dump.(Laudato Si) The earth has suffered much by reckless human behaviour and habits. Now the Nature, through the mediation of the virus, is trying to fight back the damage that has been inflicted on it.
  5. An eye opener: COVID-19 has conscientized us, as to how we are destroying our planet earth, ‘our common home’ by callous practices such as deforestation, pollution, unbridled development, and overconsumption. It has challenged our greedy behaviour and lifestyle. It has given us a clarion call to create a new world of harmony between humans, other forms of life, the earth and the divine.
  6. A U-turn:  The arrogance and greed of the rich and powerful have reached the end of the dark tunnel with no light in sight. They have accumulated more than they need whereas the poor have nothing to eat. At this juncture, the virus has come to command us to return to the basics, to restart a life of sharing and caring and shun monopoly and hoarding.
  7. A death knell: This pandemic is a death knell, which is warning us about some bigger fatal disaster yet to strike us. During the first wave experts warned us that if the spread of virus continues, a huge section of the population will perish, and it has come true. This Covid is a wakeup call to mend ways and change our lifestyles or else to be prepared for a major catastrophe.
  8. A relationship maker or breaker: Due to the physical distancing people have either knit together or become strangers. If in some families there has been greater peace and harmony due to closer bonding, in many others, there is a spurt in domestic violence. This in turn has driven many a youth into depression.
  9. A teacher:  The pandemic has taught that life is real wealth. It has conveyed the value of life. It has instructed us to love and care for each other. It has broken the walls between the rich and the poor and driven home the lesson that all human beings are equal and precious. It has instilled the desire to spend time in silence and prayer.
  10. Call to conversion: The pandemic has made humans realize that life is precious and at the same time it is fragile. We cannot take life for granted. From moment to moment we are in the hands of God. Suddenly, people have become conscious of breath and breathing, the supreme elixir of life. Thus, many have turned to God the creator, the author of life, who breathes and sustains life
  11. Shortness of life: Suddenly many a youth have come to this realization that humans are mortal, death is near at the door, no one can be certain how long they will live. Therefore, they seem to understand the need to live life to the full no matter the challenges involved, making the best of the life we have, and giving back to others and our world what life has bequeathed to us with graciousness.
  12. Karma/ Fate: Some youth believe that the root cause of pandemic is Karma – the inevitable after-effect of the way humans have lived against which there is no remedy.

One must accept it for what it is, and reconcile and live with it.

Carl Jung, the eminent psychologist, says, “Every human life contains a potential. If that potential is not fulfilled, that life is wasted”. This applies very much to the young. They are at the start of life and are full of potential, containing a myriad talents and gifts and at the point of actualizing it. They require all the support and the guidance from the elders and their mentors. Tragically many youth are misguided in today’s India by political powers, taking them astray and ruining their future. Therefore accompanying our youth and giving them right guidance and direction is an important challenge for us, Jesuits.

Pope Francis imparts very moving advice to the youth of today: “Young people are naturally attracted by an infinite horizon opening up before them. Whatever you do, do not become the sorry sight of an abandoned vehicle. Don’t be parked cars but dream freely and make good decisions. Take risks even if it means making mistakes. Don’t go through life anesthetized or approach the world like tourists. Make the most of these years of your youth. Don’t observe life from a balcony. Don’t confuse happiness with an armchair or live your life behind a screen. Give yourself over to the best of life. Open the door of the cage, go and fly. Please don’t take an early retirement”. (Christus Vivit)

Pope Francis resonates well with the youth and gives them practical advice replete with images with the hope that young will rise up in these Covid times and confront the challenges head on. It is our task to make our youth listen to his words, and become the persons they are meant to be by the Giver of all life.

Fr. William Sequeira, SJ (KAR) has been a Jesuit formator all his life. He has served as Director of Pre-Novices, Novices, and Juniors. He served also as the Rector of Mount St. Joseph and Director of Dhyanashrama Retreat House. For the past few years he has been a Tertian Instructor.