The challenge that one encounters when writing an article about personal experience is the temptation to employ an academic and scientific approach. This means that the article has to acknowledge the source of any ideas that its scribe has not authored or created. The word ‘created’ reminds me of a Physics class in secondary school. When studying matter in relation to energy, I came across the reality that “energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed/converted from one form of energy to another.” This can still be true, in my opinion, if applied to the Word of God. I would say, therefore, the Word of God can neither be created nor destroyed by any human person. We, as pastoral agents, can only transform or convert the Word of God from one form to another to cause positive effects on human beings.
I would say, as many do, that the Covid-19 pandemic caught the world off-guard. Nonetheless, even if we were to be on-guard, our lived experiences remind us of the fact that, our survival depends on God’s mercy and providence. Indeed, this humbles you and me. Consequently, we begin realising that one’s tomorrow, like that of Noah in the Ark, totally relies on God’s protection and wisdom.
As I recall my physics class, I notice that, in the Law of Conservation of Energy, the amount of energy in any system is inevitably determined by the following combination:
- the total internal energy of a system
- the initial internal energy of a system
- the work done by or on the system
- the heat added to, or removed from, the system
The same combination can be equally applied to our pastoral activities if you agree with the formulation that “the Word of God can neither be created nor destroyed by any human person, it can only be transformed from one form to another to cause positive effect on human beings.” We can leave this thought for another time.
When narrating our personal experiences, we can easily forget the key people, in particular, those who are very close to us. In order to avoid this error of omission, I therefore thank Fr. Lamec Ciza and Claude Nsengiyumva (Stagiaire) for the role they played in Henley-KwaMpumuza Community during the first wave of Covid-19 infections in South Africa.
Tirelessly, Lamec and Claude have been ministering to God’s family in Henley-KwaMzimba and St. Vincent-KwaMpumuza Parishes in the Archdiocese of Durban. The two were on the frontline preparing the ground in view to re-opening of churches. The preparations included: training of church leaders on how to conduct liturgical celebrations and services in compliance with Covid-19 regulations, forming compliance officers who would take records of congregants (temperature, contacts, etc.) and getting all materials ready (temperature scanners, sanitizers, posters, etc) before the date of re-opening churches. This, of course, drained their energy, disturbing their welfare, and stressed their minds.
Claude was supposed to have left the country for his holidays immediately after Easter (2020) and prepare himself to join the fourth phase of initial formation in Tangaza University College, Nairobi. Lamec was due for home-leave and yet he was still to handover the parish and join Lenasia parish in Johannesburg. Things turned out not to happen as planned. What a stressful situation! With these reasons among many, I sincerely thank both of them for their perseverance and missionary zeal. I pray that the Loving God may continue to bless and give them joy.
Henley Community of the Missionaries of Africa is situated in KwaZulu-Natal Province. It serves two parishes as mentioned above. During this time of pandemic as in other times, of course, we tried our best to draw our energy and wisdom as we allowed ourselves to be nourished and revitalised by the Eucharist. Everything began and ended in the community – we planned and evaluated together. This was so significant to my growth as a Sector leader. Our living together in community increased transparency, sharing and collaboration. Our community life radiated joy and hope to all those who surround us, especially leaders of Small Christian Communities, Eucharistic Ministers and families.
Despite the pandemic, the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) have proven themselves to be indispensable and the heart of Christian life. It was in SCCs that the first stage of re-opening of the churches was first experimented. It was here that the number of congregants, when celebrating the Eucharist, was ensured not to go beyond 50, including a priest and altar servers. The human mind is endowed with creativity and it excels even when hit hard by a pandemic. Creatively and thoughtfully, the Archdiocese of Durban allowed the parishes to celebrate the Sunday Mass during weekdays. Those who could not come to church on Sunday because the number was limited, had an opportunity to attend the same Mass in their Small Christian Communities. We managed to reach out to all the 35 Small Christian Communities.
The second stage in our plan included visiting the elderly and the sick who were unable to congregate on Sundays for obvious reasons. It took us five weeks to complete the first round of visitation in all the 35 Small Christian Communities. The elderly and the sick are categorised as vulnerable groups that are at high risk and exposed to Covid-19 infections. We needed to be very careful when visiting these groups. Indeed, it was a great moment in my life. I could see the face of each radiating joy because their priest ‘ubaba’ has finally visited them. My greetings, “INkosi ayibe nani” (The Lord be with you), was met with a joyful response. This reminded me of a joyful encounter between the Blessed Virgin Mary and Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56). How joyful Elizabeth was and how the unborn baby, John the Baptist leapt in her womb when they both heard the greetings of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:41-42). It was the salutation of joy and peace. Visiting the elderly and the sick, means bringing them peace as we greet them with the words of the Lord ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20:21). This experience when shared at home left each of us energised and motivated. Based on this pastoral experience, I have learnt that when we allow God to lead us, nothing can stop us from doing his will.
Through these encounters which I name ‘Jesus visiting His flock’ my faith and desire to serve God’s people is being strengthened and rejuvenated. However, this has been possible because everything was planned and organised at the level of community. It was not the fruit of personal enterprise, but rather an outcome of community discernment. Indeed, fraternal spirit at its best!
I also noticed that coming together as a community for recreation plays an important role in strengthening our informal and fraternal interaction. Sometimes Claude and I could simply remain seated enjoying beautiful melodies manufactured by Lamec’s competence of playing a piano. It was as well so fascinating to gather as community to offer prayers and petitions and to celebrate the Eucharist. This was also a moment of carrying into our prayers and Eucharistic celebrations, news and events that seemed to touch the lives of many parishioners including covid-19 related death cases. It is in prayers that one finds God’s presence, and in deep silence that one hears the voice of God saying: ‘Peace be with you!’ (John 20:21) and ‘Do not be afraid, I am with you!’ (Isaiah 41:10). One old lady in tears said, that she thought she would die before meeting a priest again. She was now happy to go in peace, if that was the will of God, she said, after having received the Eucharist. Other sick people also felt a great relief after being visited by their priests.
Through such encounters and experiences, despite the covid-19 pandemic, joy overwhelmed each of us. We felt that we were able to serve God’s people despite the worries and anxieties caused by the current pandemic. We also used such visits to encourage and urge people to always remain in compliance with the covid-19 restrictions and regulations. It was pleasing to see that each house we entered we found sanitizers on the table and everyone had put on his/her facemask. Social distancing was as well observed. Together we also reminded ourselves of the importance of continuing to pray so that God may accord us health and healing. In fact, our unity in prayers is the weapon to win the battle against fear and loss of hope.
We remain grateful to God for his presence among us and for the solidarity, fraternity and mutual support lived during this time of pandemic.
By Konrad Simon Millanzi, M.Afr.