| 3.9°C Belfast

Keeping the faith in a pandemic


The Christmas season can be a very lonely time of year

The Christmas season can be a very lonely time of year

The Christmas season can be a very lonely time of year

The big news this week was 'V' Day - vaccination day - and what our Health Minister, Robin Swann, referred to as "the beginning of the end". He described it as a "hugely significant day for Northern Ireland", but added straight away that we, as a population, still need to be very careful and on our guard against Covid-19. This is not the time to be careless about our new routines.

While in the media there was certainly some focus on the significance of the day, it was very clear that there was no sense of general euphoria. It is appropriate to acknowledge the importance of Tuesday and the beginning of vaccinations, but it is also salutary to recognise the amount of damage this virus has done, continues to do and will do before we eventually emerge out the other side.

The message in short is wait - a very appropriate message for the season of Advent. One health professional was encouraging us to hold off for another few months before hugging our loved ones, whom we haven't seen for some time. With so much emphasis on the instant, it is difficult to live out that message of waiting.

We are asked to wait, there will be no Christmas truce from Covid-19. We still need to keep our safe distance from others and keep wearing our masks and washing our hands. Yes, this Christmas will be very different from how we have celebrated Christmas in the past. One of the features of this pandemic is the fact that we, as human beings, are all facing this together - there is a solidarity in that.

That sense of solidarity showing itself in action will be really important this year. I was reminded of that when working on the parish bulletin and the fact that parishes throughout the island of Ireland will be holding their annual St Vincent de Paul collection for Christmas.

On the poster that came with details of the appeal is a picture of a teddy bear with a price tag on its ear with the words: "Price - Two Weeks' Heating". Also in the picture is a little child, seeming to be dreaming of what Santa might bring. The letter sent out from St Vincent de Paul included these words: "For many families we support, it will be filled with worry. This winter, families around the country face impossible choices. They will struggle with the decision of heating the house, or having a Christmas dinner. Should they put presents under the tree, or oil in the tank?"

Many other organisations, such as the Salvation Army, will also be coming alongside families who are struggling this Christmas to offer some practical solidarity.

Our solidarity might also see us supporting the BBC Northern Ireland Christmas appeal, which this year is focusing on loneliness, with the encouragement to reach out to people who may be lonely.

With some people dreading the next few weeks of the Christmas season, a kind word, a thoughtful comment, a text, or card, are all the more important.

BBC NI's head of corporate and community affairs, Mark Adair, said: "Just finding time to say 'Hello' could make a huge difference this Christmas. And whilst Covid-19 may require us to keep our distance, it doesn't mean that we can't reach out to others in a 'virtual embrace'."

It's worth noting when it comes to solidarity with those in need that doing good for others makes us feel good in ourselves. By putting our faith into practice and moving beyond words into action, this will make a difference in the lives of others.

Fr Martin Magill is parish priest of St John's, Belfast

Some Scripture suggestions for the week ahead:

Monday: Psalm 41:1

Tuesday: Psalm 82:3

Wednesday: Luke 7:22

Thursday: 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Friday: Psalm 72:13

Belfast Telegraph