Editor’s note: This will be the last of the series of articles about the initiatives of the Oblates during the Covid-19 pandemic. So far, we have published three articles on various aspects of their service: social media & communications, feeding the hungry, and caring for the sick. In this article, we attempt to combine various other creative endeavours undertaken by Oblates around the world.
Fr. John WOTHERSOON, through “MercyHK”, the organization he founded to help the homeless in Hong Kong, provided accommodation for 23 homeless people as they were stranded on the streets without a place to go as the country came under lockdown. In South Africa too, some of our Oblate parish priests were brave enough to convert their parish community halls into places of refuge for the homeless.
Saint Patrick’s Church in Hamilton, Canada, an Oblate parish, was converted to a rest and hygiene centre for some hours of the day, where the destitute people were also provided with snacks. Fr. Andrew STENDZINA, pastor of St. Augustine’s Parish in Vancouver started a “telephone ministry” in an attempt to reach out to every family of his parish and maintain personal contact with them. The Oblates and the parishioners of the Sacred Heart parish in Ottawa had a “virtual Easter Celebration” on Easter Sunday. Via Zoom, around 100 families met together to share their joy with one another. It included prayers, reading the Word of God, Sing-along songs and friendly chats. “It was a great time together, a moment of fraternity that came alive despite the situation of the coronavirus”, Fr. Andrzej JASTRZEBSKI said.
The Australian Province found a modern way to be close to the larger Mazenodian family. They launched a new website called “De Mazenod Family”, which now becomes the online hub for information and resources on Oblate spirituality and St. Eugene’s own spiritual journey.
The Central European Province prepared what they called a “Home Worship Service” based on the Sunday liturgy. These booklets included prayers, bible readings, homilies and catechesis, with pictures to colour (for kids). Fr. Alfred TÖNNIS, pastor for the refugees in Oggelsbeuren, invited the refugees with whom he works to a short inter-religious ‘Social Distance Prayer’ on Facebook and YouTube every evening. Sc. André KULLA, in collaboration with the Oblate Sisters (Oblatas) and the Youth Chaplains at our Oblate School in Burlo, created the hand puppet “Clara” in order to teach Religion to the young students in an attractive manner online.
The small Oblate community in Luxembourg (Benelux Province) also used a hand puppet – sheep Agatka (little Agatha) – in their YouTube series called “Beeeeeee Ewangelia” where the puppet speaks with Fr. Adam HETMAN about the Sunday Readings. Kids embraced the innovative move with both hands. The Oblates also presented the life of a Saint every week on their social media links. After listening to the story of the Saint, both the parents and their children were invited to compete on an online quiz. Catechism with fun assured!
Benelux Oblates also organized a spiritual help programme via telephone. With pre-registration, those in need of counselling or spiritual guidance could reach them on the phone. Similarly, in many cities in the Province of Poland (Poznan, Warsaw and Krakow), Oblates organized a programme to extend psychological and spiritual support for those in need, over the phone.
In Indonesia, the community at the Provincial House in Kaliori, Central Java. helped some people in the neighbourhood by offering them job opportunities. They recruited some men and women to work in their new animal farm. Over 50 poor families were benefited.
The De Mazenod Scholasticate Community in Jaffna (Sri Lanka) composed some hymns during the time they were housebound. They also turned towards planting and their home garden came alive! Under the guidance of their Superior, Fr. Damian SOOSAI, they were also able to bring to the attention of the authorities thirteen beggars who had no “home” to go to when the island came under total lockdown.
As the schools were closed down, the Kenyan government created a nationwide e-learning platform for students. However, it did little help to those children from poor families who had no access to television, radio or the internet. Therefore, the Oblates in Kenya working in parishes decided to print the online materials sent by the government and distribute them among the students.
Lesotho was not seriously affected by the coronavirus, thanks in part to the Oblates who played a vital role in educating people and collaborating with the government and the local Church in conscientizing people about the gravity of this pandemic. Fr. Charles MATSOSO, the director of Radio Maria Lesotho, was at the forefront, as he used his accessibility to the media to educate people.
Italy and Spain (the Mediterranean Province) are two of the countries most affected by Covid-19. However, that did not deter the Oblates from finding new ways to be close to the people. In Italy, every morning a group of 10 Oblates published, on social media, a 3-minute video with a meditation on the Gospel of the day. The project will continue even in the coming months with the meditations made by six other Oblates, one COMI, and four lay associates from AMMI (MAMI). Every Saturday, the communications office of the Province broadcasts a Facebook Live, where Oblates and lay associates are invited to talk about different aspects of the Oblate charism and their missions abroad. Missioni OMI magazine continues to publish coronavirus-related content to help readers look at this lived experience through the eyes of faith. The community of Marino and the Oblate Youth Movement Costruire insieme was very active during Vocation Week (May 21-29). Their sharing via videoconferencing services and social media on Oblate formation, our charism, and the vocation ministry was well received by the youth.
Madagascar Oblates in mission stations like Mahanoro and Marolambo negotiated with the local authorities to broadcast all Sunday Masses on the local radio. They also exposed the Blessed Sacrament every day in the Churches and the faithful could take turns to come and pray while following the social distance regulations. When people were asked not to gather in public, the Oblates in Befasy Mission sent statues of the Blessed Virgin, Sacred Heart of Jesus, and St. Joseph to each house. The idea was to encourage them to pray at home. Further, during the pandemic, they also somehow completed the construction of a beautiful ‘bush church’ in Misokitsy, systematically getting the community involved in the work with caution. “Here in the bush, there is no Internet because we are isolated and so we often send letters to be in contact with the Catholics” one Oblate commented.
In places like Paraguay, Brazil, Pakistan, Cameroon and Congo, some Oblates went around their parish blessing people with the Blessed Sacrament and invoking the Divine intervention to protect them from the pandemic. India published a booklet called “In Response to COVID-19”, which explains all their creative initiatives during this period.
It is also worth noting that several Oblate Units (and some Oblates on their own) organized videoconferences among the Oblates. At times, they were “international conferences”, as missionaries scattered in different parts of the world renewed their friendships during the break the pandemic gave to them.
***There could be many other ways through which, the Oblates were close to people, especially the poor, during the pandemic. However, this series of articles called “Lockdown Initiatives” should remind us the following sentence from the letter of the Superior General written on the Feast day of the Founder: “We were born for times like this”.