Kisaju Parish: A response to COVID-19 challenge in evangeling
The Psalmist in Psalms 24:4 assures us and the faithful that in the valley of the shadow of death the Lord is with us and we shouldn’t be afraid. In the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, the Psalmist still continues to call every shepherd/pastor to realize that we have a duty and it’s our obligation to give the faithful hope and reassurance as they go through this transition period and the reality of its impact.
It was in mid- March when Covid-19 cases were officially announced in Kenya by the government. This reality remained un-believed until the KCCB (Kenya Catholic Conference of Bishops) announced the changes in the Liturgy: Such as; keeping social distance, no exchange of sign of peace, removal of holy water at the entrances of the church and the receiving of Holy communion with a hand among others. What brought me to realize what was happening, was the announcement that the Church doors should remain closed on Sunday and no Masses until further notice. On Easter Sunday, we always have the experience of an empty tomb. This very Sunday, March 29th I had a similar experience of an empty Church with pews without Christians.
However, as stay at home orders were issued by the government, the Church in Kenya has responded positively to this challenge of Corona virus. This means since March 22nd, my brothers in Parish ministry and myself were not able to meet our Parishioners as usual in their outstations. In spite of the challenges of Corona virus, the pastoral needs of our Parishioner remains. That means they need us and we need them at the same time.
In this regard, we had to invent and find out new ways of evangelizing and reaching out to our faithful. Through this new reality, “I never thought I’d see the day when I would be using social media to get the message of the gospel out,”. Through what’s app, face book and messaging we are able to reach out to our members. It also remains a challenge for those who are not connected. On Sundays as we send our short reflections to our faithful, we still encourage them to watch live stream Masses organized by KCCB (Kenya Catholic Conference of Bishops).
Sacraments: It remains a difficult moment for our Christians for they have no opportunity to attend Masses or receive the Holy Communion. The only assurance we are giving them is that we pray and offer mass for their intentions. Many do send their special request for their particular intentions. Over the Easter Tridiuum, we managed to celebrate all the Masses in the Parish center while following all the guidelines given for Covid- 19. At every Mass, we had a maximum of fifteen in attendance with security present. All Masses were celebrated at the Parish center but animated by different outstations during each mass. Apart from the celebration of Holy Masses, as the pastoral team, we are always available to our Christians whenever needs arise especially those connected with administering of the sacraments. Funerals and visiting the sick remains a great challenge because of social implications and the fear of transmitting virus in both parties.
Reaching out to the poor: The Parish has a number of families and individuals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our Christians were employees on flower farms and small businesses people. With the lockdown, many people lost jobs and others closed their businesses. To help and support those in great need we encouraged those parishioners who are capable to submit their financial and material support in our Churches to support those in great need. The outcome was not very successful but we thank God for those who have been able to give out what they have.
Meeting: Despite the challenges of Covid- 19, it is the duty of the Parish Pastoral Council and the Parish executives to make decisions, give guidance and directions to the Parishioners especially with the challenges coming up with corona virus. It has been a tradition in our Parish where members come together and share their issues faces to face. The Covid- 19 has taught us a new way of holding meetings through social media and especially with what’s-app communications. It’s very challenging especially to the members who are not connected. Their ideas go unheard, however there are moments when great needs call us to come together though for short time and keeping the guidelines given for covid- 19. Some other groups in the Parish have no opportunity to carry out their meeting neither their activities. This still remains a challenge to the parish.
OMI Community: As a community we have supported each other especially in this dark moment. We still have our daily prayers and Masses together as community. We also share our brotherhood in sharing our meals. The big question remains how do we live our Oblateness with impact of Covid 19 in case a case arises in our community? It remains a challenge and we pray that it will never happen.
In conclusion, this new reality is causing us to come to grips with how important human connection really is. The Church does not only bring people together for worship or religious instructions but we are also realizing just how significant being in a common space together really is. The church is a place of safety and it has been the place of cultural affirmation. It has been the place of really locating ourselves. Now all of that is now challenged by what we are living. Physical communion especially in our context has been challenged. Corona you have “No” space in human person. God is in control. Amen
By Gideon Rimberia, OMI