Presence and Participation
The pandemic impacted everyone; I saw it as a crisis, because it limited my experience in Peru. I was here for my First Mission Assignment (FMA) program, and I was just getting to know my way around the parish when the lockdown started. As days passed by it became a new normal.
I had a lot of expectations about the FMA experience that I was going to have before the pandemic started. I wanted to know more about Peruvian culture, music, people, food, places, customs, activities and traditions in the parish, and Peruvians in general. However, it was limited because of the lockdown. I had to accept this reality. Most of the changes had to do with respecting health and safety, not only for myself but also for other people as well. The new reality came with its protocols that had to be respected, including staying indoors for one’s own safety. Maintaining one’s distance in public and when leaving the house; and masks, gloves and alcohol sanitizers were the accessories everyone was obliged to use. Everyone had to be aware and mindful of these restrictions during the lockdown.
The lockdown took us all by surprise and made a big impact on how things were to be carried out. The parish of “Los Santos Arcángeles” had to adjust to this new reality as well. Part of it was helping out those who were in need and vulnerable in the parish communities. During the lockdown part of our work was to distribute the donations accordingly to those that really need help and support. We organized giving out canastas (food baskets) to families in need, and we also tried to help support the communal kitchens of various poor communities in the peripheries of the parish.
Regardless of not being able to be with the people, I was able to participate in the daily Masses that were broadcast on Facebook. I also took up an online course on the contemporary reality in Peru which was very informative and interesting. Most the meetings were done on a virtual platform. Zoom is an app that was most commonly used. There were a lot of meetings, conversations, chat groups, novenas and even hymn practises created during this time, in trying to keep up with the communication. The adjustment to this new reality was something that had to be taken seriously and considered with great responsibility.
Since most of the platforms of communication were carried out virtually, I would like to share my experience of participating in the daily online Mass which was celebrated live via Zoom and Facebook. At first, I felt nervous because of the pronunciation of the words during the readings and having to sing the hymns whilst playing the guitar. I found these aspects challenging, because I had not practiced my Spanish during the lockdown. Also I had just started to learn the guitar in 2018 and was still trying to find my rhythm. The only thing that kept me going was that I knew that the community needed this help. As days went by I felt it was another experience gained and an opportunity to share the gifts I had been given. I also found out that during the online daily Masses, even in such difficult times, we were still one at heart. And it was meaningful to me, because people responded with a lot of faith and hope. Most of faithful were grateful to the priests for nourishing them with the word of God and for remembering them during these trying times. I also saw it as a call to communion, although through virtual platforms, it still meant a lot to the people. Sometimes I complained about technology, but through these difficult times it has served us well in keeping us in contact with the community. Therefore, I would say that through my challenges I have learned that one’s gifts are meant to be shared, and one’s presence and participation is of great importance to the whole community.
Change came to us, and whether we liked it or not, it was there. The COVID-19 crisis presented us with this situation, and I personally had to accept it and move forward. I would honestly say that it was not easy experiencing a situation like this. But all I can say is that it became an opportunity for me to grow and be able to survive on the mission during difficult times. It was a call for me to be aware of my surroundings, know my capabilities, and act accordingly to what was needed in assisting others.
Columban seminarian Atonio Saulo Seeto is on his first mission assignment in Lima, Peru.