World Health Organisation Director General

Image: WCC

Titled "COVID-19: Reading the signs of our times,” the webinar shared information on vaccines, vaccination programmes, what frontline health workers and services face, the broader social and economic consequences, and the special impact on children, youth and older people.

The WHO director-general said in a pre-recorded video message, "In times of crisis, faith is a source of support, comfort and guidance for billions of people, particularly those in vulnerable situations.

"This can not only help stop the spread of the disease but also reduce fear and stigma and provide reassurance to communities. I know that because of the pandemic, many faith communities have not been able to meet as you would normally," said Tedros.

He added, "May the week of prayer bring renewed strength and resolve for you and your work."

As of 14 March, more than 350 million vaccine doses had been administered, but health organizations say that vaccine rollout is inequitable. The WHO and its partners seek an equitable distribution of vaccines to fight the pandemic.

Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary, spoke of continuing "our pilgrimage of justice and peace" during the pandemic.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has reached all the regions of our planet. It has made manifest the danger of the ceaseless commodification of creation; it has revealed our unexpected vulnerability and interdependence," said Phiri.

"There are fears and panic, pain and suffering, doubt and misinformation about the virus, the vaccine and our response as Christians."

Global community of faith

Phiri noted that as a global community of faith, "we affirm that, even amid our vulnerability, we trust in God as God is our hope."

She said, "We are called to give account of our living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are called to show that another reality is possible, that even landscapes can change."

Sarah Hess, technical officer for emergencies at the WHO,  reiterated the WHO director-general's remarks about the critical role of faith communities in response to the global crisis over COVID-19 "where there is so much uncertainty, illness and fear.”

She said it is "not just in the spiritual support that they provide for people that increasing social cohesion, managing the significant impacts on mental health, stigma, and caring for the most vulnerable."

She also cited the faith community's role in "communication around misinformation and disinformation" and its "delivery of services supporting national health systems."

The WCC has been engaged in supporting those facing COVID-19 since it hit the world, and very early in the novel coronavirus epidemic, on 18 March 2020, the council published a pastoral letter of solidarity with those facing a then virtually unknown disease.

"Faith communities can in times like these do a lot to promote solidarity and accountability, wisdom and care. We as churches can and should raise the voice of the communities who are made vulnerable by their marginalization; who do not have sufficient water to drink, let alone for washing their hands," said the WCC.

The 15 March webinar discussion was moderated by Peter Prove, director of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. Speakers reflected candidly on social justice issues that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, including mental health, vaccines, the situation of frontline health workers, wider social and economic consequences, and the special impact on children and youth.

Other speakers at the webinar were: Aisling Falconer, UNICEF education specialist; Vuyelwa Chitimbire, executive director, Zimbabwe Association of Church-Related Hospitals; Andrew Wileman, assistant director, Older People's Care, The Salvation Army; Dr David Boan, World Evangelical Alliance; Rev. César Garcia, general secretary, Mennonite World Conference and Rev. Andrew Morley, World Vision International CEO.

The webinar is leading up to a special Week of Prayer on COVID-19 being observed from 22-27 March. In collaboration with its global ecumenical partners WCC aims at galvanizing mutual solidarity and support as an affirmation of our common human fragility which this pandemic has exposed.