Fraternal Greetings. Today is the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord during which we contemplate God’s promise of a son born of a virgin whose name is Emmanuel “God is with us” (Is 7:14; 8:10) and Mary’s fiat (Lk 1: 38) to God’s saving design for humanity with all the consequences it entailed for her in the future. The son born of the virgin gave the response of obedience, “Behold, I come to do your will” (Heb 10:10). As Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we shall respond to the present pandemic COVID-19 with the mindset proper to our identity.
In Rome, we are in the third week of “cloistered life” without going out. The present community of 26 Claretians in the Curia is getting used to this condition in a healthy way. Each one is occupied with his responsibility, studies, or other household works, and we find time for sharing whenever we are together. We take the present vulnerable humanity in our hearts to the Lord in prayer and adoration. Two of us (Vicente Sanz and Carlos Verga) are held up in their home countries, awaiting to travel after the pandemic subsides. The community has daily adoration in the evenings before vespers. Members made some sacrifices to raise money to support Sant’Egidio, which provides food for the homeless. There are stricter measures in the city to limit direct human contacts to prevent the spread of the virus, and we abide by them.
It is heart-breaking for us to know of the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Italy, especially in the North, where the death toll is soaring high. Priests, religious, and health personnel are also among the victims. We hope that the measures taken by the government will have an effect in the coming days. The situation of other countries in Europe, America, Africa and Asia is also getting worse. We have only one reported case of Bishop Javier Travieso among Claretians who is infected with the virus so far. Mons. Javier (today is the 11th anniversary of his episcopal ordination) is stable and hopes to improve as days go by. We shall remain close to our brother and all the people who are affected and suffering this pandemic virus in our prayers and love.
Claretian response to the pandemic COVID-19
I like to share with you some reflections to help you respond to the Pandemic in our respective communities and Major Organisms.
- Attitude towards the Pandemic: We respond to the pandemic with Christian and Claretian attitudes and virtues. I would underscore calmness (no panicking), faith (not given to helplessness), hope (not desperation and gloom), and love (never indifferent and no acedia). As Claretians, we should be at our best of spirit when we confront difficult situations and face this world crisis. Then only we can strengthen those around us and support all efforts to address the situation. The pandemic will pass away like many other ones in human history. However, we shall live through this crisis with awareness and do willingly and lovingly all that we should be doing in such a time. We should also be ready to face the impact of the pandemic on the world economy, work, and living conditions, especially after this situation, which will have a bearing on us too.
- Responsibility for oneself and others. All of us should make sure that we fully follow the guidelines given by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. The irresponsibility of civilians has caused a catastrophic situation in some places. When one is healthy, there is a tendency to ignore the prescriptions for human contact and personal hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus. The carelessness of one member can endanger the whole group or community and all those whom that person encounters. All the superiors should see to it that the instructions are followed in their respective Major Organism or community. I also invite the Major Superiors and their council to assess the situation in their region and see how they can collaborate with the efforts of the Church and civil society to deal with the situation. Each of us should pay attention not to become the cause of infecting another person as a carrier of the invisible virus. If any member of your community gets infected, please immediately inform the Major Superior and follow strictly what is asked of by the health authorities in your region. It is important to know these guidelines beforehand by consulting relevant sources.
- Draw from the fountain: we need spiritual strength to address the situation, which requires more than human efforts to win the pandemic. Most of us cannot and should not directly go out to meet people to give assistance. However, like Moses who lifted his arms to the Lord to strengthen Israel in the battle (Ex 17:11), we shall lift our hearts in prayer during the “stay home” asking for wisdom and strength for the health professionals and civil authorities who are in the forefront to address the perilous situation. All of us should find some time to pray for those on the frontline fighting the illness and those who are victims. Most of the Christians in the world are not able to participate in the mass in person. Let us carry them in our hearts when we celebrate the Eucharist. It gives me joy to know that most of the communities have organized moments of prayer and adoration asking God’s mercy and an end of this COVID-19 virus.
- Creativity and innovativeness: The “stay home” time to disconnect and defeat the virus should be a time for creative and innovative ways of connecting with others to carry out our mission for the people. Our missionaries are reaching out to the people in many ways. I am glad to know of the many new ways our brothers are doing ministry using social media. Many have started bible studies and catechism via online or video conferencing. Many spiritual activities are done via streaming. Students continue studies online. Communities make sacrifices to gather money to procure food to the vulnerable workers and street peddlers hit by the weekslong shutdown. Though we stay at home to break the chain of diffusion of the virus, our hearts go out to our people. Please think together and discover how you can reach out to them and how we can respond from the gifts we have as missionaries. This time of staying home should be transformed into moments for growing deeper into the divine presence within and to discover the face of the Lord in the others, especially the suffering fellow humans. All pastoral creativity should flow from this depth and width of our faith. The video message sent from the motherhouse in Vic (CESC) by Frs. Carlos Sanchez and Josep Rovira is an encouraging invitation to all of us to make use of the time from a Claretian key. The present situation of statutory immobility also calls us to become familiar with online meetings and video conferences at different levels rather than keeping the various offices and ministries in a state of a moratorium for long.
- Communicate positive energy and empower each other. You will hear hundreds of theories, messages and proposed remedies related to COVID-19, which are being circulated in social media. As many of us are also avid users of social media, please be mindful of the effects of the messages and forwards you share with others. When you disseminate fake news or unconfirmed information to others causing panic and negativity in their minds, you are also acting like the very virus you are fighting except that the virus infects the bodies while your message infects the minds. You can get reliable information on the issue from the official site of WHO: https://www.who.int/. Let us be missionaries who bring consolation, hope, and strength to others through all means possible rather than be a prophet of doom and sower of negativity. We can be evangelizers in social media by using it as an opportunity to disseminate good.
- Let the Word of God illumine you. As servants of the word, this is a time to nurture ourselves and others with the word of God. The Word of God gives us deeper insight and understanding of the events that happen in and around us. All events in history are signs of God’s saving action. The current situation is opening the eyes of many humans to many realities: the ecological disaster that we have been mindlessly heading to satisfy human greed; the fundamental equality of all humans before impending death; the benefit of animals and plants when humans reduced pollution; the value and need for posing the rollercoasting life and being at home with dear ones; the need to fight the invisible common enemy together forgetting differences. COVID-19 has physically showed the interconnectedness of the global village where a contagious virus can travel in a couple of months to 196 countries claiming 16,362 lives and infected 375,498 persons (WHO report today at 10 am, 25/3/2020). Often, we are not aware of the social, Psychological and spiritual invisible viruses that infect the human mind and spirit, and drain the vitality of individual lives and human community. Examples are plenty as in the case of sexual abuse of minors, abortion, political corruption, etc., that deform the divine dignity of humans. Let us read the human situation affected by this pandemic event in the light of the word of God which is ‘sharper than any double-edged sword that pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart’ (Heb 4:12).
Dear brothers, I want to express the closeness of the Superior General and the General Council as well as the Curia community to each of you. Let us commend all the Claretians, all the people entrusted to our pastoral care together with the whole Church and humanity to the protection and consolation of the tender love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We unite ourselves with Pope Francis in prayer for the healing of the world.
Fr. Mathew Vattamattam, CMF