“We feel that this is the best we can do at this difficult time. We want to let them know that they are not alone in facing this pandemic.”
THEY ARE NOT ALONE…
by Fr. Marco Henriquez, SSC
The author used to do mission work in Pakistan. He is presently assigned in Chile.
I am Marco Henriquez, a Columban priest from Chile. I became a parish priest in December last year in the Archdiocese of La Serena, which is about six hours from Santiago, the capital of Chile. It is a large parish spread all over the countryside, covering 43 communities. It had no priest in residence for the previous 16 years. Because this part of the country has been severely affected by ten years of drought, life for most people here is tough.
Our first Holy Week celebration in this place was supposed to be celebrated last March. Everyone was abuzz with positive energy as we planned the best way to celebrate it. But everything came to a sudden halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic. All public gatherings were forbidden. All of a sudden, we found ourselves confined in the parish house, unable to celebrate Mass with the people or administer any other sacrament. Instead of staying still, we decided to turn this difficult time into an opportunity to find new ways of reaching out to people.
First, we had to let go of the old ways and learn about things we had taken for granted. We thought about celebrating Mass on Facebook, and it proved to be a great idea. We arranged our dining room in the parish house to serve as the chapel.
People sent the names of their deceased relatives, and we would offer the Eucharist for them in our daily masses. After the Thursday mass, we would have a brief moment of prayer with the blessed sacrament. We were gladly surprised at the number of people joining us for mass. We were getting messages even from people living in other parts of the county.
After Holy week, we decided to visit people in their homes. Every week, we go to two or three communities. We do not go inside people’s homes. They wait for us in front of their houses and we express our greetings before proceeding to bless them. We do not shake hands or have any form of physical contact. We follow the safety regulations provided by the authorities; we consistently maintain the distance, wear face masks and use alcohol gel on our hands.
We feel that this is the best we can do at this difficult time. We want to let them know that they are not alone in facing this pandemic.
Whenever we have a funeral, it usually takes place in the house of the deceased. We try to make sure that people keep a proper distance and that only close relatives would attend the funeral, but it does not always work out that way.
Now, we plan and work around the liturgical calendar. On Pentecost Sunday, we had a night liturgy and then went around town to bless the candles that people had prepared outside their homes.
No doubt, this is a challenging time, but it is also a period of discovering the many creative possibilities of connecting with people.