When I was in the Philippines, I was assigned to two parishes, St. Peter Parish, Shrine of Leaders during my first term and Shrine of our Lady of Mercy during my second one. As both are Shrines, there were lots of pilgrims visiting those two places every day, so there were six Masses on weekdays and more than 16 Masses were held on weekends. Since more than 80 per cent of the population is Catholic in the Philippines, every Mass was filled with parishioners and pilgrims, and even, many of them stood outside the church door to attend Mass. On the way around the mission area, there was a daily Mass in the different BEC (Basic Ecclesial Communities) areas under the church. Even there are Masses in the chapels in shopping malls, hospitals and office buildings in the Philippines. The good thing about being a Catholic is that there is a church everywhere in the world. (except in some parts of the world where there is no religious freedom) The first thing that I check about any city to visit in the world is the location of the cathedral or church and its Mass schedules. I made it a habit to enter the churches I pass by to rest with my God during my trip. For me, the church has always been the house of God, open for people.
This year, Korean local churches had to make tough decisions to stop the Masses. More precisely, because of Coronavirus, public Masses were canceled for the first time in the 236-year history of the Korean Catholic Church. Until mid-February, efforts had been made to continue Mass somehow, by keeping hand sanitizers, by not taking holy water, and by wearing masks during Mass. However, as of February 19, followers of the pseudo-religion called Sincheonji were rapidly infected with Covid19 and Shincheonji, which held a massive nationwide gathering in Daegu the previous week, became a hotspot of the virus. To make matters worse, its followers come from all over Korea. Shincheonji, which had a method of secretly hiding in other religions and recruiting believers, missed the timing set by the government for preventing a pandemic by concealing information and not disclosing their movements. Beginning with the Daegu diocese, where has the highest number of victims, public Masses were canceled and the Korean church decided to join the government's "high-intensity social distancing" to prevent the rapid spread of Covid19. It was the beginning of a long journey deprived of public Masses until Easter.
The suspension of the Mass not only in Korea but also over the world came as a great shock not only to those who regularly attend the Mass but also to those who celebrate it. Fortunately, I was blessed to be invited to the Eucharistic celebration at the Columban Formation House, where I live next. Attending the Mass during this crisis has made me appreciate it more as a valuable and blessed time. Under this circumstance, people began to interact in creative ways to overcome not physically attending Mass when they could not meet in person due to social distance. Masses were held through broadcasting and a live-streamed Mass online available. Some priests made video clips of their Mass in the empty church or recorded their homily and shared them with their parishioners. Some other priests and sisters have given them courage by calling and sending messages one by one. Also, it is said half a million Italians and tens of thousands of Catholics around the world have watched a live-streamed Mass from the Vatican since the cancellation of public Masses in their respective places. These kinds of new alternative waters the thirsty deer over the world "As the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:1)" This is a new way of communication and mediation that exercised creativity beyond the difficulties caused by Covid19.
Covid19 has brought about various phenomena for humanity, good or bad, and let us allow to reflect on things that were not easily seen in our lives. First, the whole world had to stop for a while, so the planet showed how nature, which has been indiscriminately exploited, can be restored. The sky, which had been cloudy with fine dust, became clear, showing its transparent blue colors, and endangered animals and plants began to come out. This creates a space for us to propose alternatives to overcome the "climate crisis" that we face. Second, Coronavirus has brought about a different aspect not only in nature but also in human relationships. Family members who used to have no time to see one another due to their busy schedules have time spending together, which can help their relationships improved. For office workers who have to work overtime, working at home provides more flexible time, which they can spend it for themselves. In my case, I exchange warm regards with my family, relatives, and friends through a video call and have meetings with people around the world through Zoom, an app for video conferencing. Furthermore, although monthly Come & See gathering has stopped for three months starting in February, I have been communicating with the participants online. Also, while seeing how political leaders around the world handle this crisis with their capabilities and leadership has made me realize once again how much our single vote affects our lives, how precious and valuable it is.
Besides, COVID19 also brought up uncomfortable inequality that was below the surface, which more acutely showed who the real underdogs are in our society. The probability of getting Coronavirus is equally given to all of us, but it has caused more pain to the socially disadvantaged under the structure of the inequality. I have come to realize that the basic income system, in which everyone can live equally in human dignity, and the social safety net for the socially and economically marginalized, such as the disabled, migrants and refugees, etc. should be better established. Even more, most countries were revealed to have a defenseless health system for the pandemic. It beckons us to overhaul the public health care system in which anyone could benefit from medical care like what Korea is trying to do. As such, we are now able to attend more to the weakness of humans revealed by the Coronavirus and the inequality inherent around the world. Based on this, we will be able to move toward a safer world together, a world where we can live together.
After the most prolonged and most challenging period of Lent, Jesus was finally resurrected. The globalized crisis is still ongoing, and many experts say the Coronavirus is likely to enter a long-term war. I reckon the first thing we can do now is to keep our position where we are by not being eaten by the fear and depression the Coronavirus gives us, which is called Corona Blue but keeping the social distance that has been kept until now by giving up Mass. I want to run to the Philippines, where I used to live in and be with those who were with me, especially candle-making mothers in Novaliches. However, not only can I go there at the moment, but there is no sharp solution. What I can do is to soothe this heart with a prayer for their safety and well-being. So, I will light candles and pray for all of us, trusting that God will protect us until and even after we will be able to meet again. Amen.