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By Fr. Donal O'Keeffe

The impact of Covid-19 on the formation House was immense! Students returned at the end of February for a new term to discover that all classes would be online. The students, Jude and I have spent the last three months together in the house every day!


Columban Fr. Donal O'Keeffe
Columban Fr. Donal O'Keeffe


The seminary lockdown was followed by the cancellation of all Church celebrations nationwide. Like other congregations, while we brought all those touched by the pandemic to our prayers and liturgies, we let it be known that no outsiders should come to our houses. We would contribute to the common good by not getting infected and endangering others, but as to how we could concretely respond to the suffering we were floundering! The pastoral limitations of a Church which has prioritized clerical administered sacraments, almost to the exclusion of other liturgical forms, was exposed. SNS, the internet, despite all the fake news, proved to be invaluable tools for connecting and expressing solidarity.

But the Church's efforts at lived Social Teaching came into its own! For example, the Oblate missionaries in Songnam City, despite opposition from locals, continued to provide daily lunches for the needy; medical personnel like Sr Pak Young-hae SOLPH left their safe positions volunteering to take care of Covid-19 patients in Daegu. Catholic Hospital staff were there responding to the crisis. These frontliners “are the image of the field hospital that continues to carry on the Mission of Christ who drew near to and healed people with all kinds of sickness and who stooped down to wash the feet of his disciples” (Pope Francis May 12, 2020).

During this time, another phenomenon was the recovery of nature as we humans scaled back our activity: Air became clearer, rivers cleaner and wildlife appeared where it had been absent for eons. Today many scientists are positing a connection between the increased disruption of natural habitats together with accelerated climate change, and the frequently occurring phenomenon in recent years of viruses jumping species and causing new diseases (SARS, MERS, H1N1, COVID-19). It is becoming clearer that that our ‘normal’ way of life is destroying our planet and ourselves. 

Looking to the future:​​ Laudato Si’ with its vision of ‘our common home’ and ‘integral ecology’ has to become the foundation document for our Mission. Columbans should be asked to do further studies around the area of Creation Theology, ensuring that the Society has people who can reflect and discern about Mission today.​  A formation focused on helping candidates develop the ability to reflect, to be catalysts able to create open caring communities of dialogue and reflection where the God of Life is experienced and celebrated sacramentally. To end on a note of Hope! The ‘lockdown’ shows that people can make changes to lifestyle when they are convinced of the necessity! Recent publications in Korea (the national Catholic papers May 17) carried perceptive articles on the implications of the Covid-19 experience and the need for change. Such reflections are key steps in creating a different future!