Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The numbers game

….except that it is not a game. It is a tragedy beyond anything that most of us can conceive.

During the past few days, we’ve heard a great deal about the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the earthquake in China. Today we heard that there might be another cyclone heading towards Myanmar.

For most people, it is difficult to imagine 15,000 individuals, never mind 15,000 bodies, as there are in China, or the 40,000 who are missing. It is even more difficult to ‘see’ the 100,000 who have probably died in Myanmar.

For my part, I use St. Peter’s Square as a convenient measure. When the crowds gather to hear the pope for his weekly General Audience on a Wednesday, or for his Angelus Message on a Sunday, there are usually approximately 50,000 people packed into the Square.

If we add the figures for China and Myanmar, however crude an estimate they might be, then we are speaking of a minimum of 115,000 people who have died during the past few days, or roughly three times the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. There are, roughly, ten times that sized crowd who are missing.

Some of the major Vatican Radio broadcasts, such as at Christmas or Easter, might have as many as 40 million potential listeners, so there must be way in excess of that number who listen to, or watch, the news on radio and television at any one time across the world. I am not a mathematician, but that means that the number of people who have been touched by the suffering in Asia at this present time is in excess of 800 times the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, or ten times the massive crowds who gathered for the funeral of Pope John Paul and for the Inauguration of Pope Benedict. That is a vast mass of humanity, far more than the majority of us can possibly imagine. It is an incredible force of prayer, sympathy, compassion and solidarity for the people of China and Myanmar.

There must have been so many prayers during the past few days, offered silently and also publicly for those who have been caught up in such catastrophic circumstances, circumstances far beyond anything they could ever have imagined would become their own experiences. I am sure that those who died must also be praying for those who survived and for those working to alleviate the suffering.

The world really is a global village if we consider ‘the numbers game’. It is a community in spite of differences of ‘tribe and tongue and people and nation’.

May God grant eternal rest to all those who have died and courage, strength, perseverance and hope to those who remain.

God bless,
Sr. Janet