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COVID-19: Exploring Faith Dimensions
Adaptations, Impacts, and Emerging Debates

This week we hear reports about adaptations of religious life, debates beginning over vaccines, and the immediate and long-term impact of COVID-19 on hunger, children, and a myriad of other issues where faith-based organizations are involved.
With regard to adaptations, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have chronicled how home-centered worship and gospel study have blossomed globally since March. In Israel, adaptations to the traditional gap year, where Jewish teenagers spend a year studying religious texts in seminaries and yeshivas, have allowed for 17,000 foreign students to enter the country under strict protocols.
As vaccines begin to enter later stage trials, some religious voices are highlighting both ethical and operational concerns, including that a vaccine which uses fetal cells could “create an ethical quandary.” Others, like pastor Terris King, have begun the work of educating their congregations to combat hesitancy around vaccination. Marci Hamilton makes the case that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act could undermine herd immunity in the United States, and she urges that this religious liberty law could in fact pose a threat to public health.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on longer-term challenges is clear. A leading issue concerns children’s welfare, with marked effects becoming apparent on malnutrition, education, and unfortunately, sexual abuse. There are reports of surges in child marriages, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. These issues were discussed during a webinar last week with Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, president of Sarvodaya, the largest faith-inspired movement in Sri Lanka.
Pope Francis used his weekly general audiences in August to focus on the pandemic, and how faith and the Church in particular can help to heal and rebuild the world. “The pandemic has exposed and aggravated social problems, above all that of inequality,” the Pope said on August 26. An August 31 webinar explored reform of the Catholic Church in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. An interview with Aloysius John, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, the organization that coordinates the national and regional Caritas organizations around the world, and news regarding Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charitable organization, highlighted how these messages are being integrated into the work of Catholics globally.

There is substantial evidence emerging that local actors of many faiths are deepening and expanding their charity work in light of the pandemic, for example by utilizing mosques to distribute food to those in need. A World Bank Group webinar this past week explored the topic, as will an upcoming webinar linked to the annual meeting of PaRD (International Partnership for Religion and Sustainable Development) that will feature Katherine Marshall of the Berkley Center and World Faiths Development Dialogue and Dr. Olivia Wilkinson of the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities.
Upcoming Event
September 10, 10:00 a.m. EDT
Dueling Pandemics: Faith, HIV, and COVID-19

The webinar will explore challenges and hopes around COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS, first engaging a proposed strategy that is the product of a broad-based reflection launched in September 2019 at the Berkley Center as a challenge to faith communities, and then taking stock of the impact of the COVID-19 emergency. The discussion will focus on two issues: Given the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, how should the religious response to HIV change so that progress towards ending the HIV pandemic by 2030 is sustained? What are the most effective strategies for religious communities to battle HIV and COVID-19 at the same time?

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