March/April 2020 (Part 2.)
▪ In England, Sisters are very much concerned as they hear the growing number of people being infected and the death rate rising. We are self-isolated and our activities are curtailed, with no visitors in Park Mount Home for the Elderly. It is a stressful time for all, but especially for the residents who were used to having visitors and taking part in various organized activities. Thank God we have Mass streamlined from our parish. All this generates a silence with certain expectancy like on Holy Saturday. We believe it is a holy time, a time of grace and a call to a deeper conversion, a call to more sincere prayer and commitment to the community, to our families and those who depend on us. In this challenging time, we are very concerned about our 50 elderly frail residents who are confused, nursing staff, other workers and their families. It is also inspiring to see how members of staff sacrifice their time and energy to care for one another as well as for the residents. In some ways, a greater sense of community and responsibility for one another is growing and people are turning to prayer for strength and to find peace. We are in this together. The days and weeks pass swiftly. As a community, we are praying more together and keeping in contact by WhatsApp and by phone.
▪ In Tanzania, Sisters were stunned when they heard about the first infected case in the town of Arusha. To avoid the infections the schools, colleges and universities are closed however, the government encouraged the public to attend the places of worship to implore God for the healing. The country is not yet completely under lockdown. Our 2nd-year Novices who were on their community experience in different countries had to return immediately to the Novitiate before the borders were closed. Nevertheless, Sr. Marie Clare, the Novice Mistress, who had gone to Rwanda for the Regional Chapter and holidays, was not able to come back as all flights were cancelled. The two Germany volunteers were also required to return home by the government and MAZ organization. All these abrupt movements were not easy and created more anxiety among the Sisters. The fear of meeting each other is inevitable as it is not easy to rule out the infection. This crisis has united us spiritually even more ! We have come to acknowledge our nothingness, sinfulness, our need and dependence on God alone. As per the announcement of Tanzanian President, the churches remain open for people to pray for God's mercy and healing while taking the required measures. So many prayers, adoration and penance services are held in all the churches whereas the Moslems play their part as well. We don't pray for such a grave disease but it's so amazing how this has brought people together who with one-word acclaim "Only God can save us". We have become a little more humbled and obedient to listen to the advice from the Government, Church leaders and our Superiors.
▪ As is the case all over the world we here in the United States have dramatically adjusted our daily life activities – family, community, work, and social. Although we are practising social distancing, we are seeing how important it is to check on those that are vulnerable, the elderly, children, those living alone. Our citizens are going above and beyond their normal way of life.
In Huntington, Sr. Mary Grace Barile and members of the senior administration attended a conference on COVID-19, which was sponsored by the Huntington Chamber of Commerce and the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. From the beginning of this present COVID-19 tragedy, Huntington health facilities, the Health Department, and first responders of Cabell County are being well prepared, sharing local, city, state, and national contact information with everyone. Both St. Mary's Medical Center and Cabell Huntington Hospital now have a No Visitors policy to protect both patients and staff.
The Pastoral Care Department had a special prayer service that was requested by the Governor of West Virginia on March 25th, for an end to the COVID-19 virus. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed during the service of readings, homily, and prayers by pastoral care members.
The Sisters in our Infirmary and patients watched the service on their TV from their rooms. On that day, Pastoral Care also initiated the playing of Inspirational Music from the Chapel, to help quell the anxiety of our patients, as they deal with their illnesses and the institution of no visitors during this period.
Since all activities and gatherings are being cancelled in the USA, we Sisters are making changes as needed. Since we are not having daily Masses, each of us watches Mass either on T.V. or Computer, YouTube. Later we have a Communion service with our Evening Prayers. We all experience a new way of life during these trying times. Our assurance is that God is in control.
Sr. Joanne Obrochta continues her ministry in Pastoral Care in a very different, but very rewarding manner. Sr. Joanne calls her patients and prays with them over the phone, which she has been told by several of them, they have experienced peace in their day by this; sister also calls each of the nursing units and as they gather around their nursing station and put her call on speaker, she offers a prayer for their service and safety. We have all learned to make adjustments to the way we daily minister to staff and patients throughout this period of the coronavirus.
Sr. Mary Grace, Provincial continues her daily hospital work from home, beginning each morning with a 7:30 am virtual meeting. Sister is still able to take part in required meetings by conference call, and of course, there is always email communication.
Sr. Mary Terence Wall, while not being able to go to her parish is ministering to the parishioners by calling to check on them daily. They have been comforted by her "visit." Sr. Francesca Lowis who lives in Buckhannon, and works at St. Joseph’s Hospital, has begun to work from home, connecting by computer to her office work, and joining her regularly scheduled meetings via virtual attendance. This has become a common practice all around our nation. Sister has been blessed with daily Mass, as her pastor invited her to attend the private Mass he has. Sister has reported that life at Holy Rosary Catholic Church practically came to a halt when the US Bishops asked there be no public celebrations of the Eucharist. As time went by, the Pastor Fr. Joseph McLaughlin, SM and parishioners became quite creative and used social media to keep members of the parish informed and active in spite of social distancing and stay at home orders. Pastors of neighbouring Parishes took turns live-streaming Sunday Mass, Holy Week and Easter Services.
Our sisters in Laurel, Maryland shared that with churches closed, on March 25 from 5 to 8, p.m., the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in front of the parish hall, with candles and a spotlight on the monstrance. This was a time of prayer for an end to the coronavirus epidemic and the victims and their caregivers. All participants had time of adoration from their cars. It was inspiring!
The sisters also share that they have taken part in some good stay-at-home activities, especially a daily TV Mass, with communion, and a week of special prayers for the virus victims and caregivers, using the Angelus, litany of the Blessed Mother, and a sung "Salve Regina". A "rice bowl" is available for us to donate for the poor, and the community will match what is collected.
Both of our sponsored ministries, Pallotti High School and Pallottine Renewal Center are physically closed during this epidemic period. Our high school is able to offer classes, again in a different manner, by having students "attend" classes via an internet connection, enabling them to dial into lectures and receive daily assignments, having their academic year moving forward. Unfortunately, the Renewal Center has had to cancel all scheduled Retreats.
Sr. Izabela Swierad, General Superior, is still here in the United States, NJ at the house of her mother, as sister is unable to travel back to Rome due to travel restrictions into that country. Sr. Mary Grace and Sr. Izabela are in contact with each other weekly, as Sr. Mary Grace knowing that sister is in New Jersey, a State high in number of confirmed Covid-19 cases, makes sure Sr. Izabela is safe and healthy while here. Sister remains busy carrying out her duties as General Superior, as much as possible, being in the contact with General Administration and the Major Superiors of Congregation.
Our Congregation and provinces are all going through the same major changes in the way we continue our ministry to the people of God, however, all of us have adapted new ways of serving, of coming together as local communities for prayer, and caring for those in need while practising social distancing. Let us continue to support each other in prayer and concern for all in the Congregation and our world. As has been the message here in the United States to our citizens "We Are All In This Together," and we will get through this as long as we do what is necessary to keep well and safe, and above all rely on our loving, compassionate God. As we turn to God, with pleading prayers, hopefully, there will be good things that will come out of the COVID-19 virus tragedy.
Let us remember our Deceased Sisters
Sr. Fernandis Westhoven SAC * 11.07.1931 † 11.04.2020 GERMANY
SR. DOROTHEE REISS SAC * 21.01.1928 †19.04.2020 GERMANY
To be continued …