"May your Faith be greater than your Fear" [Heb 13:6]
Fr Tony O'Connor sm writes from San Felipe de Jesus Catholic Church, Brownsville, Texas.
Here we were : attending Central American Minors in their centers and in the parish; taking food, clothes, and provisions to the asylum seekers over the border; and to the poor "ranchos" on the other side of the river in cooperation with the valiant people there; getting our kids ready for First Communion and Confirmation, 30 R.C.I A. candidates adults and children;fully attended Sunday masses; baptisms; weddings;15 year old birthdays; Zumba; Yoga; Praise; Adoration; adult education; Bible; food bank;social assistance. Then COVID-19 arrived.
On the border here and in communities living on the underside of society where everything is always changing there is always a way forward.
Obviously Jesus is not only to be found in a church, the sacraments, and the community physically united. Jesus is to be found in amazingly novel ways as we search for Him. It is about finding what will unite people generally and particularly in what answers their deepest yearning especially in a time of great stress, fear and insecurity.
Our PATH happened like this:
We concentrate on traditional Post, Emails, WhatsApp, telephone messaging, messenger, and telephone reaching out, keeping in contact, reassuring, meeting needs "Faith is greater than our fear "(Hebrews 13.6)
Fb is our principal means of communication. By means of photos of events, announcements, homilies which make the connection between the Word and COVID-19 and offer encouragement Fb is for us a very important point of contact with our community which is now virtual.
Digital ceremonies, Face Book
Through Fb daily virtual masses with song, weekly adoration we connect the Word and COVID-19. (Enculturation of the Gospel to COVID-19 life today) The followings have been surprising (between 200 and 1000 strikes at a time) Their response have been prayer requests and names of the sick and dying and the dead. Then always at the end of the stream Mass our cheerful parish notices and back chat just like at Mass on Sunday. Some people respond and their texts come across the screen. We are permitted to have 10 people at the Mass so participation by the community is larger than that with each of five musical groups coming once a week for their mass and other people who yearn for a mass to come once to be one of the ten.
If no one could come to church then there was no reason to print the bulletin? So we learnt how to put the bulletin on Face book, and even amplify it. We can also do it now even in color at no cost.
Requesting Economic Support
By means of our forms of contact we were able to tell our people about the economic situation of the parish and the need to keep afloat, taking into account our awareness that they too may well be without work and income. The response has been very good and I believe a call to people to respond to God and the community in time of trial "Diezmo (tithing) is for God"
Reaching out through Food
Our food bank has developed since 2015 thanks to the Rio Grande Valley Food Bank that trusts us with quite a lot of products. We have some thirty volunteers who come "at the drop of a hat" to help distribute. With the loss of employment and income and the humble economic situation anyway of our people they come flocking once we send out an announcement that there will be a food distribution at a certain time and what will be distributed.
Drive in Food Bank Distribution
To avoid contagion etc. the masked majority come in their beat up and not so beat up cars to collect and those without walk through the parking lot with their masks and mobile baskets (with wheels.) I make a point of standing there and (even helping when necessary) like being at the door of the church after Mass. Through our masks we can communicate and more show each other that "We are all in this together", God Is good and our community has adhesion. You can feel the adhesion. God is found not only in the church or the large community physically united but in these meetings like two ships crossing in the night, not just once a week but up to three times. I do feel a bit uncomfortable because by being present in this way I personally tend to get a bit of "kudos" as if I am giving them free food which is far from the truth and the Marist way. Thank God, and the Food Bank. Don't thank me.
Prepared meals for children and youth.
With no classes at school but by internet, some pupils miss out on the two school meals a day. We have a little program for some 80 youth and children whose care givers come and pick up a meal at 3.00 p.m. Monday to Friday. The minors who receive this food would be the neediest of the community.
Prepared meals for 120 people over 60+
It is true that many of our people over 60+ at the best of times don't arrive solvent at the end of the month. So from Wednesday to Friday we give out 120 meals to 60+ people who come or send family members to collect their plate.
Julian of Norwich
A wise lady "Do what you can and that will be enough"
There will be a time for First Communions and Confirmations and R.C.I.A. I just hope the kids have not grown out of their outfits by then. Baptism and marriages and 15 year birthday celebrations will all happen in good time. Meanwhile "We do what we can and that is enough" I feel that "all manner of things will be well" even as hunger grows and the COVID-19 increases, we will find God in the crisis and "faith will be greater than fear."
The people of the Rio Grande Valley are very giving and conscious of the need to share with the sick, the hungry and the needy. It is something ingrained in their own psyche from their own experience. Those who suffer because the doors of their church are closed and who yearn to return to the Real Presence of the Eucharist and the community physically united (and they are many) are discovering that God's presence is everywhere even in the Altamira Oriole which in this time of "shut down" is returning from the ranch land to our streets and gardens.
And the Asylum Seekers over the river, and the Central American minors, other migrants, and those in the US in COVID-19 infested detention centers ? They are all for us "beyond the pale". All court sessions deferred to the 1st of June for asylum seekers, the minors deported back to where they came and ditto to other migrants too. Those detained in detention centers are in God's hands "God's time is perfect" but definitely it is not just yet.
Tony O'Connor s.m. 28th April 2020