Jerome Novotny OMI – Recently, I read an article about the suffering of Sri Lankan tea workers and the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the country’s poorest people, the plantation workers face more hardships due to their low income. Their jobs have collapsed due to the coronavirus, and there are no additional sources of income for them.
Almost all tea workers are Tamil and descended from India as migrant workers in the 1820s to provide cheap labor on tea estates. More than 52 percent of tea plantation workers are women.
These women are relatively isolated from other communities. They are extremely poor and do not enjoy benefits such as maternity leave. They are isolated from the rest of society both politically and economically.
One tea worker said that when she does work, she earns less than 19,000 rupees or less than 25,000 yen per month. “My husband is sick and does not go to work in the estate. Our family lives from month to month by mortgaging our house and selling the few possessions we have.”
This story touches many workers throughout Asia. It can also teach us a profound spiritual truth. There is much suffering in the world and there is also hope. We read in Luke 24: 13-35 that we are never alone. When we are suffering, Jesus is walking alongside us. He is usually hidden from our sight, but He is there nonetheless. We can be sure that. If our minds are open, someday we will realize that Jesus has been with us all along. But it doesn’t end there. He also established a Church through which He is able to continue walking alongside us. We see this in Luke 24: 13-35. How?
As followers of Jesus, we are also called to walk alongside those who are suffering. Through the Church, Christ asks each one of us to be His presence in their lives. Pope Francis calls this “accompaniment”. In his document, The Joy of the Gospel, he writes, “We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart that makes it possible for a genuine spiritual encounter to occur.” The first step is to walk alongside a person who is suffering, the second step is to listen to the person, and the third step Christ Himself will tell you what to do.
Who in our lives is suffering and could use someone to walk alongside them? Are there people at work, friends in the hospital, elderly in the neighborhood who are lonely and need a friend? In Japan, 70% of the elderly suffer from loneliness. Are there people in our families who need someone to listen to them? God is calling us to bring Jesus to these people, to accompany them in their distress, and to reveal Jesus’s love and compassion to them.
All of us, to one extent or another, have hardships. Life is difficult and it sometimes causes us to build psychological protective walls around ourselves. However, whatever the situation, Jesus is always by our side.
Strengthened by the teachings of the Church, by our conviction that God has conquered sin, and by his unconditional love for us, we can be Jesus’s presence and walk alongside society’s unimportant people. As followers of Jesus, it is who we are.