human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Caritas Europa’s response to COVID-19

Reiterating our commitment during this crisis

As the sun rose on 2020 and people stepped out into that first, mid-winter, January morning, not many could have predicted that two months later Europe would be thrown into a crisis on a scale not seen since the Second World War. COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, needs little introduction now, and has spread around the globe to virtually every country on the planet causing wide scale shutdowns of schools, businesses, industry and services. We now know this is a global pandemic, a public health emergency which is changing the daily lives of all communities in our region. The Caritas Europa secretariat finds  itself in the middle of the outbreak, with staff working from home, in line with Belgian national regulations.

Reports of how national “lockdowns” were affecting Caritas services and operations in different regions of Europe began to flood in as early as mid February. Italy was the first European country to experience the dramatic impact of the virus and now no European state has escaped its effects, with the most vulnerable and marginalised at risk of being further excluded. Many social centres have had to close or run at limited capacity. Food banks and soup kitchens have become increasingly difficult to organise, having to reduce their capacity despite needs increasing. There are predictions that in the mid to long-term, the national shutdowns could result in the loss of employment, with many companies and organisations being forced to temporarily or permanently lay-off staff members. In many European countries, already marginalised groups, such as migrants and Roma communities, find themselves facing even more challenges in finding work, shelter, social assistance, or even just someone to talk to. The elderly are at particular risk, not only because COVID-19 can be a danger to their lives, but because they also face isolation and lack of care due to the restrictions that are in place.

In an effort to continue serving its member organisations, Caritas Europa has set up a ‘crisis cell’ which is meant to tackle, in a comprehensive way, the different challenges of this unprecedented crisis which requires additional efforts in organisational development, humanitarian action, and policy and advocacy needs. This crisis caused by COVID-19 affects every aspect of our lives, and an integrated approach is needed.

Sadly, many planned events have had to be cancelled or postponed. This has provided us with opportunities to find new ways of meeting which could, in the long run, be viable alternatives to costly trips and events, for people and the planet. Our annual regional conference planned for May will now take place virtually and all planned travels to member organisations have been suspended.

However, “Caritas doesn’t close,” and our members have shown their courage and tenacity in facing this challenge. Already many new ways of addressing the needs of beneficiaries have been found. Some services can still operate if interactions happen on a one to one basis and follow proper hygiene regulations. Pop up shelters for the homeless and other vulnerable groups have been set up in various countries, and campaigns raising awareness have been quickly and effectively disseminated. In several countries, this virus comes on the back of other domestic issues like natural disasters, large migrant influxes, and already weak welfare systems. Caritas workers who continue to serve on the frontlines deserve all our thanks, encouragement and support.

Out of such a huge crisis, stories of hope must rise. Whether through neighbours singing together from their windows, or online musical acts of solidarity , or through the selfless actions of thousands of medical staff working tirelessly, this global event has shown that people can come together in challenging circumstances to support each other and build new ways to stay close together. It has shown that a truly human solidarity is possible across nations, creeds, and cultures. There is much to be done, but Caritas Europa, as part of a global confederation of 167 member organisations at local, national, and international levels, is committed to serving the most vulnerable, living Caritas in our hearts and in our actions. As a network we call on everyone to do what they can in this fight. Whether that means following your national guidelines or continuing your service work as best you can in the situation. Finally, please pray for those affected, and we join you in supporting the victims of this crisis, and their families.