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For the second straight year, Hindus, Baptists and other members of the Christian faith are marking religious celebrations under COVID restrictions, eased somewhat in the past year but still nonetheless more subdued.

For the Hindus, the celebration of the festival of Holi or Phagwa is usually associated with gatherings, the spraying of coloured water or abeer and a general sense of merriment. The atmosphere of merriment heralded by the observance serves to reassure devotees of the power of truth and victory of light over darkness and good over evil.

It’s much the same for the celebration of Spiritual Baptists Liberation Day, as members of the faith gather to pray, clap, sing loudly and ring bells, a freedom they were denied during a period of prohibition but which they are allowed to do freely today. Their celebration tomorrow will be subdued because of COVID restrictions.

Then there are the other Christian faithful, who on Palm Sunday, observed yesterday, would usually traverse the streets waving palms in remembrance of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before he was betrayed and crucified.

While these religious activities are again low-key this year, the significance of each remains, more-so at a time when millions across the globe have united in a common cause to find a vaccine for a disease that threatens not just lives but livelihoods and economies.

Pope Francis observed in his Palm Sunday mass that while shock dominated the first year of the COVID-19 health emergency, people are now more weary, with the economic crisis growing heavier. “Last year, we were more shocked. This year it is more trying for us. And the economic crisis has become heavy,” he said.

The pandemic, without doubt, has taken a toll on religious gatherings and celebrations but its impact has been so much greater. Children unable to go to school are trapped in homes and online classes, unable to experience the camaraderie and all that school brings. Many others have, this past year, been negatively affected, unable to go to school or access online learning, while others were forced to assist their parents in the home, unable to continue their education.

It’s been a year when so many families have lost jobs, businesses have closed doors and many have been unable to see light at the end of the tunnel.

The pandemic has claimed 142 lives in Trinidad and Tobago and millions more across the globe. There are many who are suffering and many families unable to make ends meet. Let us heed the words of Pope Francis and in the face of so many suffering and in difficulty: “Let us not pass by, let us allow our hearts to be moved with compassion, and let us draw near.”

This is a call not just to all citizens but to our leaders to show the compassion and fortitude to help so many who need it at this time. While the vaccines we are told will come this week will help bring some semblance of normalcy, the sad reality is that many citizens will remain vulnerable. It is to them most attention must be paid.