Paolo Ferrario is a manager for Newton Technology and a volunteer for Caritas Tunisia. In a Muslim-majority country, the work of Christian organizations during the coronavirus emergency highlights the possibility for people of different religions to be united by the same desire.
A complete lockdown of the country was declared on Sunday, March 22. The strong governmental decision has been strictly respected, and includes a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., during which time you cannot go out except for a health emergency. During the day, we can go out to get groceries. Most industries and commercial activities have been closed. Even we had to close our business, as we do not produce basic goods.
A STEPPING STONE TOWARD EUROPE
Caritas is still working with the people it usually supports, as well as with additional “desperate people” who come in need of help. They are Tunisians or people coming from South-Saharan Africa. Most of them are here for study or work reasons, or because they believe that from Tunisia, they can easily reach Europe. Many work in the informal market or find themselves in difficult circumstances.
We know that some people have been expelled from their apartments, as they couldn’t pay this month’s rent. Hence, some cash and food assistance is also provided. In addition, mothers and pregnant women are given special support, especially medical assistance, when needed.
WILLINGNESS TO HELP
Something really surprising is that Tunisian people continuously offer us their availability and call us, asking if we need anything. They also make cash and food donations. They donate their time by accompanying adolescents who have been imprisoned for being out during curfew and have then been abandoned without the ability to contact anyone.
This is something beautiful, because if you think about it, it goes beyond my individual religious belief, as it consists of supporting and sharing the response to basic needs that emerge. At the same time, it is recognized that these “Catholic structures” are important reference points, attentive to those basic needs.
The Church leaves a footprint, a trace, and creates the conditions for all Tunisians of good will to give their contribution to build the common good, together.
UNITED BY THE SAME DESIRE
[Our technical director] is a 42-year-old Tunisian man. He is a very religious person, a Muslim. After years working with him, and since we are both people with a religious spirit—that is to say, people in search of something—we have become good friends. We were speaking about when life will return to normality.
I told him that our normality now is this situation. Later, circumstances will be different, as they were also different before the crisis. However, the way you and I live these circumstances are the same. We both have this need, this desire to find the sense of our life. We both agreed on this point.
A TIME TO LISTEN
We agreed that in this exceptional time of silence, it can also be an exceptional time for listening. We are both called to this, you through your muezzin who, from the minaret, invites you to prayer, and us from our ringing bells, that are obviously digital, but so numerous during these times. For people of good will, that is to say, people in search of something, this a privileged time. It doesn’t matter whether one is Christian or Muslim. It doesn’t matter. We are both called by this circumstance, which dominates our daily life. Today, I am called to this life. Tomorrow, if I get sick, I will still live this search. My desire will be the same.