Hello! My name is Fr. Marco Henriquez, and I am a Columban priest living and working in the archdiocese of la Serena, which is about six hours from Santiago, Chile.
I became a parish priest here in December 2019, and there was no priest in residence for the previous 16 years. It is a large parish spread all over the countryside. It has 43 communities. This part of the country has been severely affected by ten years of drought, so life for most of the people here is tough.
In March, we were getting ready to celebrate our first holy week in this place. There was high positive energy as we were planning how would be the best way to celebrate Holy Week. But everything came to a sudden stop because of the coronavirus pandemic. Every public gathering was forbidden. All of a sudden, we found ourselves confined in the parish house unable to celebrate Mass or any other sacrament. But we decided to make this difficult time as an opportunity to find new ways of reaching out to people. But first, we had to learn to let go of the old ways of being in a parish and things that we took for granted. We decided to celebrate Mass on Facebook, and it proved to be a great idea. We arranged our dining room in the parish house to become our chapel. During Holy week and after every celebration, we went around the houses, blessing the families and giving them communion. We followed the regulations provided by the authorities. To keep the social distancing and hygiene protocols, we, use the facial masks and hand sanitizers. People did the same.
After Holy week we continued to celebrate Mass on Facebook. People send the names of their deceased relatives, and we offer the eucharist for them. We added an extra eucharist on Thursday, and after Mass, we have a brief moment of prayer with the blessed sacrament. We were gladly surprised but the number of people joining us for Mass. We would get messages from people from other parts of the county
After Holy week we decided to visit people in their homes. Every week, we go to two or three different communities. We go around the houses and bless the families. We do not go inside their homes. They wait for us in front of their homes, and from a proper distance, we greet them, and after that, we bless them. We do not shake hands or have any physical contact with them. We feel this is the best we could do at this difficult time. We want to let them know that they are not alone, that we will face this pandemic together.
Whenever we have a funeral, it usually takes place in the house of the deceased. We try to make sure that people respect the distance and that only the close relative would attend the funeral. But it does not always work out.
Now we have decided to plan and work around the liturgical calendar. There are so many possibilities to be creative and reach out to people. On Pentecost´s day, we will have a night liturgy, and after that, we will go around town, blessing the candles that people will have ready outside their homes.
No doubt, this is a challenging time, but it is also a possibility to be creative and find new ways of being with people.