Each week a member of the Vincentian Family will share a part of his/her experience during recent months. From the depths of their heart these writers will present a message of hope because we are convinced that there are positive lessons to be learned from this pandemic.
I live in a community of the Congregation of the Mission composed of older priests: four of us are over 70, another 80. The situation is aggravated by the fact that two members of the community need special care. There is only one young member (30 years old) in the community. We soon became aware of the mutual support that we needed during this time of confinement. Only the 30-year-old member of the community could go shopping and provide us with food and other necessary things. Each of us intensified telephone communication with loved ones and with parishioners in need of support and comfort.
At the same time, this situation of isolation made possible daily personal prayer and meditation and also community celebrations. Every day we concelebrated and prayed together with special intensity. During our celebration of Eucharist we included a special intention, praying that the mercy of God would ease the suffering of so many people who have been afflicted by the pandemic. We prayed in a special manner for the sick and for those who were living alone. Day after day, we united ourselves to the suffering of people we knew who became infected, and especially to the grief of those families who had lost one of their members (who was buried in deep solitude).
The declaration of a state of emergency meant the cessation of all pastoral activities: the Eucharist in parishes and shrines, the celebration of the sacraments, funerals, etc. including services to some women’s religious communities and nursing homes.
Fortunately, the imagination and creative spirit of our founder soon inspired us with the idea of using the technical means at our disposal: the idea of broadcasting our community celebrations on Facebook arose almost immediately. Two days after the declaration of the state of emergency we were already transmitting our community celebrations. Furthermore, aware that some of our parishioners and friends did not have sufficient knowledge with regard to this means of communication, we sent them, via Whatsapp, the entire celebration. During the past three months, we have received countless expressions of gratitude for these concelebrated masses, expressions from people living in other countries and on other continents. Some expressly asked us to include their deceased relatives in our mass intentions.
The virtual celebration of Holy Week posed another challenge: the celebrations of Holy Week are deeply rooted in people’s consciousness (visits to the churches after the celebration of Holy Thursday, processions, Easter Vigil and other expressions of popular piety). From the beginning we attempted to transmit (virtually) all the celebrations of Holy Week with the utmost fidelity to the popular piety of our tradition. We began the Palm Sunday celebration on the patio of our house and processed to the chapel waving palms and singing. Then came the special celebration of Holy Thursday, with special emphasis on the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood (for obvious reasons, we omitted the washing of the feet). In the evening, we had a special Holy Hour, with selected texts from the gospel and reflected on the theme of Christian love. On Good Friday we reflected on the Lord’s passion and death which culminated with the afternoon celebration (the reading of the passion and the adoration of the cross). The celebrations of Holy Week were culminated with the Easter Vigil, during which certain readings from the history of salvation were proclaimed, the baptismal liturgy celebrated and remembered, and the universal prayer of the Church which included prayers for the people afflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic. All these celebrations were also broadcast on Facebook.
In this situation, similar to the lived experiences of so many religious communities around the world, we have learned many and very important lessons: first, that as Christians we do not live our faith in isolation and therefore, our relationship with God must inevitably be revealed in our relationship with our sisters and brothers; second, that in both good times and bad times, we must focus our gaze on our merciful God who suffers pain and misfortune with us; third, that the new means of communications opens windows that allow us (as Vincent de Paul stated) to be “creative to infinity.”
Let us do everything for the greater glory of God.
Fr. Félix Villafranca, C.M.