The number of coronavirus cases in Cambodia has remained zero for over a month. Of course, there were those returning from abroad that were infected but there is still no death rate here.
Still, schools remain closed as well as churches which means there is no religious activities. Of course, some of the regulations have eased. For instance, we are allowed to have a gathering of 10 – 20 people. The question is what can we do as missionary and what can we do in term of pastoral care? We can go on defense by having a small group of people take turn to gather at the church. Or we can go on the offense by bringing ourselves into their homes and communities.
In keeping in touch with Catholic youths, the Church uses Facebook’s messenger application as a main source for communication. They have already held an online concert and began catechism classes for those who are scheduled to be baptized this year already. So, it is no wonder that during COVID-19 lockdown, the use of internet has increased. Moreover, there have also been a significant increase in online sales; especially in food delivery service.
What does this mean for us? This means, we should have a change in our pastoral care plan. If internet is what we use for communication and for services today, there means now is the Church’s opportunity to do pastoral care delivery service. Of course, the Church would still host online Masses, but the fact is there are some areas that still struggle with internet speed and some people don’t even own a smartphone.
The Church, then, made a shortlist and started to contact homes with elderly people, who used to attend Mass service but couldn’t anymore due to the lockdown, to prepare them to receive Christ in their homes. This may not be the most logical thing to do since we need to increase precautions for both ourselves and the people we visit; but this is an opportunity to help them open their lives to spirituality.
Holding Mass at home is not a new thing in Phnom Penh but missionaries still find it challenging. This is a great opportunity to teach catechism and actually see the congregation’s living condition. There are families who are preparing for marriage, families who use this opportunity to get together, some use this opportunity for confession, and even some who found their calling.
During this difficult time, the Holy Spirit has given humanity a gift of creativity for missionary work and pastoral care — we learn to adapt and to keep faith as well as to keep the brotherhood intact in this “new normal”.
Missionary work and pastoral care always need adjustment to conform to the current situation. COVID-19 not only teaches us the new lifestyle but it also teaches us to respect God, to respect nature, and to respect others in order for us all to live in harmony.
Father Paolo Chatchai Ruamaram is from the Thai Missionary Society. This article is a translated version of one that first appeared in Mission Diary, Udomsarn Monthly Magazine.