Pastoral experience during the pandemic
The Corona virus pandemic has affected the whole world in many ways. At the beginning of this year, Covid-19 was not a reality in Africa, till the end of February 2020, it was still far from Kenya and life was normal. The atmosphere started to change in March 2020, when few countries in Africa announced their first cases and few days later, Corona was in Nairobi, Kenya.
Life in general has changed and the usual routines have been interrupted by closure of businesses, churches, learning institutions and other big offices. The consequences of this change are also psychological, emotional, social and economic.
What is our experience in Kionyo? How do we cope with the situation, how does it affect our parishioners and our pastoral?
We would like to thank God for the fact that up to today 29th April no case has been reported from Meru county and Meru diocese.
We are doing well as Oblates and our parishioners are safe from Corona up to this moment.
The government issued some measures for preventing the spread of the virus as it was mentioned earlier. Social distancing, sanitizing, staying home, reduced movements, no big gatherings, no Church gathering, etc. The government of Kenya encouraged people to work from home for those who could. This was a change without any good transition, many people were caught up and all the plans were canceled. As businesses went down, no activities and no resources available for the common citizens, this created a lot of panic, fear, sadness and anxiety. It took time for people to adjust to the context of Covid-19.
We don’t forget to mention that our parishioners were also affected spiritually. For instance, missing Sunday celebrations, missing Triduum and Easter celebrations was a big distress for them. Funeral masses are allowed but with a small group of 20 people, and this is very unusual for the people. We managed to baptize in our community chapel a five-month baby, daughter to the manager of water project, it was a big joy for the family.
For pastoral activities, we have limited our contacts with our parishioners, following the directives of the Diocese and the restrictions from the government. But we are keeping in touch with our Christians and we are assuring them of our prayers. Our prayers go to their families, the sick and to our benefactors. Sometimes on Sundays, we try to go around to check on our Christians, waving on them and trying to encourage them and we also bring Holy communion to the sick and elderly.
Concerning business, the economy has gone down. Our parishioners are farmers. The only consolation for them is to do some work in the farm. Tea picking is going on, but not as intense as usual because the tea buying center receives them just once a day to avoid congestion. This means that the quantity has reduced and the benefit is affected.
The revenue of the parish comes from Sunday collections. Since there is no mass, the parish is struggling to survive. The construction works on the main Church is still on and at Irimbene Prayer House.
Our parishioners are concerned about our life as Oblates. We are grateful for their generosity. Some small Christian communities brought food items to the community and we shared with Meru community.
It is not everyone who understands that corona virus is real and serious. Since there is no local case yet, some people think that Covid-19 is meant for people living in towns. We are therefore trying to inform our parishioners about the transmission of the virus, its effects and how to prevent and protect themselves.
At the parish level, no activities are going on; catechist meeting, choir practice, meetings of different groups, catechumen classes have been suspended, but parents have been given materials on prayers for their children.
In Kionyo community, three of our employees were given a leave while two are remaining to take care of our cows and of the compound.
Schools and others learning institutions have been closed down. The government has created an e-learning platform through social media. Despite these efforts implemented by the government, it is still a big challenge for students from poor families who are not able to access a television, radio or internet. However, we have found a new way of assisting them, by printing for free some materials sent by the government. We have organized tuitions for some few students tree times in a week. We hope it will help them in their studies at home.
This pandemic period has given us an opportunity to discover ourselves better and to learn more life skills. We have learnt to cook for ourselves and to take care of the household. The construction of our parish center church is still going on and keep us busy. Those working at the site are taking into consideration some preventive measures for their safety.
We are grateful to our small Christian communities for supporting us with food and some money via Mpesa. This is very encouraging to us because they are able to share with us their time and resources. Following the spirt of our founder, we also share with some poor families whatever we receive from our parishioners. It is common nowadays to have needy people knocking at our doors, many phone calls from our parishioners asking for any kind of assistance.
In conclusion, the pandemic of covid-19 has brought out the value of family life, solidarity and generosity among people. By protecting our self, we protect others. It is not enough to say new opportunities bring new spirit and news ways of being missionaries.
By Constant Ilombun, OMI – Pastor Kionyo Parish