I hope you’re all keeping safe.
For those of you who were at Mass last weekend, you may recall me saying that the COVID-19 outbreak and the impact it has had worldwide is quite overwhelming. However, I believe God is using this experience to speak to us individually and collectively as a church and as human beings in general. Perhaps he is telling us to slow down and to listen. The question is, “Are we listening to him and do we have the capacity to discern what he is saying to us?”
Personally, this has been a time of reflection and prayer for me. I am trying to hear what the Lord is saying. I must confess that just like for many of you, this has not been easy for me. It’s sad to see travelers stranded and flights cancelled and people in isolation. I was planning to go home after Easter but I guess it may not happen if this continues. It’s sad to hear of so many deaths around the world, the sickness, suffering and emotional pain many people are experiencing due to COVID-19 and the consequent shutdown. Even though there haven’t been many deaths in my country of Nigeria due to the Coronavirus, a lot of people are dying daily due to violence and persecution. Just last Sunday over 300 people died due to what they claimed to be a pipeline explosion. Among them were many students, a priest and a nun who were celebrating Mass. Whenever lives are taken, whether by conflict or disease, my heart bleeds.
Some parishioners have expressed to me their fears, anxiety, frustrations and sadness for not being able to go to Mass and receive Holy Communion. We can’t even gather as a group in the church to pray. Some have wondered whether we will ever get the people back in our church if this lingers. Honestly speaking, I don’t know how this will impact our church and our faith community. But I have strong faith and hope that everything will be alright again and that God will do something new in our lives and in our church through this experience. One of my favourite passages of scripture is Romans 8:28-39 which says, “We know that everything works unto good to those who love God… And nothing will ever separate us from the love of God…”, not even the Coronavirus! No matter what happens, God is with us, he loves us and he is in control of our lives. He will surely save us!
I believe that this is a moment for us to reflect on what it means to be a priest, a Christian and a member of a faith community/parish family. Is the church the building where we worship, or the people that gather to worship? Without diminishing the importance of the building/temple, I agree with the Church which defines herself as ‘the People of God’.
If that is the case, it implies that this whole experience may be calling us to rethink a new way of being Church in our modern time. It is a call to return to the origins of Christianity, to become once again like the early disciples of Christ who gathered in their homes to share the word of God, to sing and to pray. They loved and cared for one another such that no one was in need. It was that witness of faith that made people say, “See how much they love each other”. And more people joined their assembly and the Church grew in number and in faith.
In the face of this Coronavirus and the shutdown, there are so many people who are in need and we are called to reach out and care for them. How do we reach our parishioners, the sick and needy around us? That’s a challenge for all of us as parishioners.
A few days ago, a parishioner came to me with an envelope containing money and asked me to give it to another parishioner who is sick and hurting. And she did it anonymously. When the sick person received it, he nearly broke into tears because someone cared and came to his help. Also, some parishioners have reached out to provide groceries to some people in need and some others have given donations to pay for the hospital bill of a sick woman. These are wonderful things God is doing through human instruments. I think that’s what we need more and more. That’s what it means to be a church. I thank each one of these parishioners and all those who are helping others in one way or the other. May God bless and reward you abundantly.
I’ve wondered what our Church will be like once we emerge out of this. I think it depends on how each one of us respond. I believe if we open our hearts to God, we will see the new things God is doing in our midst. God will bring us back and help us to rebuild. At the end of it all, we will have a renewed church, we will come back to work together as one parish family/community that is united in mind and heart.
I cannot thank enough the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), the staff and parishioners who have stepped up to support us. I thank those who have already started making donations by E-Transfer and PAR. I thank you for your prayers. I offer the Rosary and Mass each morning for you and for your families and for the whole world.
Finally, please stay connected with the parish via email and the website (www.ctkdartmouth.com) and let’s continue to reach out and support one another. Please be patient and bear with us if we cannot meet all your needs as quickly as we would like to. We will be doing our best to respond as much as we can. Fr. Anthony, Fr. DeCoste and I will explore the possibility of celebrating Mass on Sundays which will be streamed live. Some other parishes and Archbishop Mancini will also be offering live-streamed Masses at different times (including in French). We hope it will work out well and you will be able to join us from the comfort of your homes. More updates on this will be on our website soon.
We suggest that you find other ways of keeping your faith alive as a family until we are able to resume our weekly Masses. Pray the Rosary, read the Bible and share your experiences of what God is doing in your life or in the lives of your loved ones.
I miss you all – I miss the hugs and the happy smiles. But I hope it won’t be for too long. Take care and God bless. Love you all.
Fr. Toochukwu Okafor
(Note: Please read Philippians 4:4-8, and Psalm 23).