• Wartakanlah Injil kepada segala makhluk.
    Mrk 16:15

  • 你们往普天下去, 向一切受造物宣传福音
    谷 16:15

  • Everything is possible by the power of the Holy Spirit’s Grace.
    St Arnold Janssen

  • Segala sesuatu menjadi mungkin dalam kekuatan karunia Roh Kudus.
    St. Arnold Janssen

  • 我当传教士不是为主牺牲,而是上主给我的最大恩赐
    圣福若瑟神父

  • Với sức mạnh Ân Huệ của Chúa Thánh Thần, Mọi việc đều có thể được.
    St Arnoldus Janssen

  • Preach the Gospel to the whole creation./Anh em hãy đi khắp tứ phương thiên hạ, loan báo Tin Mừng cho mọi loài thọ tạo
    Mk 16:15

  • There are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit.
    1 Cor 12:4

  • And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
    Jn 1:14

  • Let the word of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you.
    Col 3:16

  • To proclaim the Good News is the first and greatest act of love of neighbour.
    St Arnold Janssen

  • 传扬天国福音是第一且最大的爱近人行动
    圣杨生•爱诺德神父

  • Có nhiều đặc sủng khác nhau, nhưng chỉ có một Thần Khí/
    1 Cor. 14:4

  • 圣言成了血肉,寄居在我们中间
    若 1:14

  • Ada rupa-rupa karunia, tetapi Roh satu
    1 Kor 12:4

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Thursday, 25 February 2021 09:33

Covid-19 pandemic an opportunity for pastoral creativity - reflection

 

Fr Anthony Le Duc SVD 150 LighterBy Fr Anthony Le Duc SVD

Despite the ever-increasing degree of globalisation taking place in the world characterised by intertwining economic systems buttressed by internet technology, it is rare to have a happening to which every section of humanity on all continents of the earth can directly relate. The images of pain and suffering caused by war and famine in one part of the world may be reported to people in another part of the world, and the people who view these images might react with sympathy and compassion for the hapless victims, but ultimately the events themselves might not affect them very deeply in terms of their daily life. Even the effects of climate change and global warming, which is wreaking havoc on some parts of the world, are yet to be felt or understood by many people, especially those living in wealthy countries more equipped with coping mechanisms to deal with adverse impacts brought about by such changes.

Priest gives communion during COVID Shutterstock 550The coronavirus pandemic that made its appearance in late 2019 and has continued to ravage the world in 2021 is an exception to the usual state of affairs because it has managed to turn the entire world upside down with all the disruptions brought upon the global political, social, economic and religious structures. Arguably at no other time in history has an invisible virus managed to cause equal-opportunity destruction throughout every part of the world to the extent that SARS-CoV-2 which gave us Covid-19 has. It has claimed victims of all socio-political-economic backgrounds regardless of age and gender. Admittedly, a detailed examination of the pandemic reveals that certain groups are more negatively affected than others, even within the same country or community. However, the reality of the pandemic as played out thus far shows that the virus aims to not discriminate. One of the most convincing pieces of evidence to prove this point is the fact that the United States, which is politically and economically the world’s most powerful country, also has the largest number of infections and deaths.

Beside the public health and the economic-political aspects of the pandemic, there is also a religious dimension as the chaos and suffering experienced by humanity globally have raised multiple questions within certain individuals and communities of religion. Depending on the religious outlook of those who raise the issue, questions range the gamut of whether the pandemic represents divine punishment for human sin or is the consequence of negative human karma. Others have asked if the pandemic is merely the result of a mishap or is a sign of some impending apocalypse that humanity need to take heed. Other age old questions have also been re-articulated in reference to the situation of the pandemic: Where is God in all of this? Why does evil exist? And if there is God, why could such evil be allowed to exist? Despite the fact that these questions have been addressed by countless generations of theologians and philosophers, and spiritual thinkers, the context of the pandemic has revitalised these questions leading to a myriad of articles, homilies, talks, Youtube videos and even some books dealing with these issues.

At the same time that religion plays a part in helping people to understand and make sense of the current situation, religion, in terms of being a social and cultural entity, also counts itself among the victims of the pandemic. The Catholic Church, one of the largest and oldest institutions in the world, also could not escape the wrath of Covid-19. From the Vatican to rural Asia, churches have had to be shut down and normal activities that sustain the life of the Church and the worldwide flock cancelled or take on a different form. No matter if it is an annual parish feast or important liturgical occasions such as Easter and Christmas, celebrations of these events have been taking on very different forms from what Catholics have known all our lives. In addition, Church leaders and pastors who are expected to be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep” have been asked to stay away from them (at least physically), especially those who are elderly and sick, and thus more at risk of death due to infection by the coronavirus. However, it is not just the sheep themselves who might die from coming in contact with the shepherds; the shepherds too might die as a result from being too close to their sheep. Indeed, as of January 2021, Italy alone has lost over 200 priests; many of them were still actively serving their communities at the time of their death. This is a tragedy for the Church in Italy, which is already facing a serious drought in terms of vocations.

But the Church has never and cannot recoil in the face of danger, especially when it affects the well-being of the faithful and the entire humanity. The very first sentence in the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes (no. 1) declares that “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ,” organised around the Catholic Church. Therefore, the Covid-19 pandemic is not a time for the Church to renege on this promise, but an opportunity for the Church to respond to the signs of the times with concrete actions with courage, determination, confidence, and trust.

Church with masks on COVID 550 ShutterstockIn addition to the virtues mentioned above, another essential virtue in times of crisis such as presented by the pandemic is creativity. “Pastoral creativity” has become somewhat of a buzzword in ecclesial discussions during the Covid-19 pandemic, referring to a pro-active and innovative response by pastoral leaders and workers when confronted with seemingly insurmountable challenges and obstacles. “Pastoral creativity” itself, nonetheless, is not a new phrase; the expression did not get invented during the pandemic, but much longer before that. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI remarked in the homily in the Mass at the conclusion of the Synod of Bishops:

Besides traditional and perennially valid pastoral methods, the Church seeks to adopt new ones, developing new language attuned to the different world cultures, proposing the truth of Christ with an attitude of dialogue and friendship rooted in God who is Love. In various parts of the world, the Church has already set out on this path of pastoral creativity, so as to bring back those who have drifted away or are seeking the meaning of life, happiness and, ultimately, God.

The concept of pastoral creativity has also been highlighted in multiple other ecclesial documents, both at the local and universal contexts. The emphasis on “pastoral creativity” and a related concept “missionary creativity” has continued to be employed consistently even from the very beginning of Pope Francis’ pontificate. In one of his first documents, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis calls for pastoral and missionary creativity in proclaiming the Gospel. In context of the parish, the Holy Father states:

The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelises, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be ‘the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters’. (no. 28)

Moreover, the Holy Father encourages people involved in pastoral work to eliminate outdated ways of thinking and doing. “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way’. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelisation in their respective communities” (no. 33).

Although the phrase “pastoral creativity” employed by Pope Benedict XVI has been transformed into “missionary creativity” by Pope Francis, pastoral creativity has been an important evangelising thrust in the Holy Father’s teachings as can be seen in numerous documents and remarks. Indeed, in Evangelii Gaudium, he asserts:

Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticise governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk. (no. 207)

Thus, as pastoral leaders and workers throughout the world journey with the People of God through this time of the pandemic, it is important to heed and reflect upon this call for pastoral creativity in the face of tremendous challenges and limitations placed upon the minister and those whom they serve. This crisis is also an opportunity to explore new models and means of pastoral work that would not only be applicable to the present circumstances, but could also change the way pastoral workers carry out their service in the post-pandemic Church. At no other times in recent memory has pastoral creativity been so urgently needed in order to sustain the life of the Church and to help support humanity through these very difficult experiences.

PHOTOS

TOP RIGHT: A priest in Milan, Italy, gives Holy Communion to a woman during an outdoor Mass held during the COVID pandemic. (Shutterstock)

BOTTOM LEFT: Churches have an opportunity to respond to the COVID pandemic and restrictions with pastoral creativity. (Shutterstock)

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