By Fr. Anthony Aneke
Palms in beauty procession; the Angelic and refreshing candor of the resolute catechumens; the lucid but shrouded drama of clean feet; a reliving of a passionate cross; the adoring blazing candles in the dark but unlonely night, and the perfect soul that is graced within… so it does mean I am losing all these this year. Covid-19 has indeed thrown a pebble into our pool of religious sobriety and individual recollected spirits. The ripple is enormous. To be sure, for the first time, I don’t feel anything. I don’t feel the week of weeks. I don’t feel holy. I don’t feel it and I can’t pretend I do.
Anonymous text to Choice Flame
7th April, 2020
It has been a nightmare for serious minded Catholics. The temporary lockdown of public celebration of masses and religious gathering in Enugu is not going down well with them. The seemingly strict directives and measures by the diocese in containing Covid-19 appeared unrealistic for them initially. The possibility of missing Sunday masses was in fact unthinkable. It was not, until last Sunday, which was the beginning of Holy week that reality confronted them. It was indeed frustrating. Christians lamented so much on missing out the Palm Sunday. The tension is in fact, still building. They couldn’t come to terms with the fact that the Holy Thursday would not be as inviting as it used to be, that the Good Friday would not be as solemn as it used to be, that the Holy Saturday would not be as hopeful as it used to be, that the Easter Sunday mass would not be as joyful as it used. To be sure, celebrating the Holy week at home this year makes most Catholics feel so horrible about their Catholic faith.
The ChoiceFlame gathered, through a tour round Enugu Metropolis, that some Catholic faithful hovered around Church premises on Sunday morning with their palms hoping for a public celebration of the Holy Mass. They thirsted for it with all their breath. One Mrs. Enebechi spoke to ChoiceFLAME in tears: “I can’t understand this” she said, “The mass has been my life, my breath, my soul, and my everything, I can’t afford to miss it on a special day like this.” Even though the Catholic faithful were encouraged to follow live-streaming programs, and radio broadcasts to commemorate the Lord’s passion as the validity of its sacramental character was emphasized, but such perceived ‘electronic participation’ didn’t go down well with them. Many have expressed the difficulty in adjusting to this development. One Njideka from St. Mary Parish Uwani said she feels empty without being physically present. She regrets missing the glorious celebration of palm Sunday but maintained that the sacrifice worth it as it is geared towards curbing the pandemic.
Speaking to ChoiceFLAME about the reaction and adjustment of his parishioners to this new development, Fr. Paschal Nwosu, the vicar for laity in Enugu Diocese expressed his concern about the difficulty among his parishioners in adjusting to this new reality given this most solemn moment of the Church. “My Parishioners find it uncomfortable” he said, “They aren’t happy missing not just masses but other public devotions that unite them” Fr. Paschal made it clear. He said that the faithful still hope that a directive from the authorities would come to change the whole development before Holy week ends.
New expressions of faith emerging
The temporary shutdown of public gathering in the churches is becoming a blessing in disguise. It is positively paving way to new forms of faith expression. It is in fact, fanning the embers of faith of the catholic faithful in different dimensions and capacities. It is not only re-echoing the age-long conviction of the Popes and the Fathers of Vatican II (Lumen Gentium, II) that the family is a domestic Church but waters the ground for its expression in practical terms. First of all, family members now have the luxury to devote their time, attention, love, care and solidarity for the common good. Now, the family finds its true expression in togetherness, a value inherent in African culture: I am because we are, we are because I am. In other words, families have no choice than to express their faith in common terms perhaps to make up for a seeming lack. Families had time to share their faith together in prayer, reading the scripture, meditation, and various special family devotions. Members of African families always want to unite to fight a common enemy. A homogenous sense of spiritual identity is gradually springing up in various families. Also, Catholic Faithful are beginning to realize the conviction of Piux XII’s encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi published in 1943 – that the Church is the mystical body of Christ. Christ is the Head and the faithful are members of his body. This is becoming a new discovery for many Catholic families in Enugu.
Various Catholic families in Enugu shared with ChoiceFLAME their designed daily religious programme. One Nicholas from ABakpa confessed how his family for the first time had time to pray together and encourage one another after so many years. To be sure, this sudden development seems to be strengthening the Faithfull’s personal faith, devotion and relationship with Jesus. Those who go to Churches only on Sundays are now gradually questioning why they do so and thus, having a self discovery of personal authentic faith.
True Charity manifesting!
Faith without good work is dead. Faith finds its ultimate expression in action. The lockdown has also paved way for what authentic charity should be. Irrespective of the hardship that besieges Nigerians and of course the complacency of our leaders, Christians undestood the need to reach out to the poor in these trying times. Various donations have been poured into the national coffers to fight Covid-19, and a lot of philanthropists too have also stamped their feet. ChoiceFLAME gathered, that some parishes actually organized themselves in such a wonderful way to take care of the poor and the needy within their locality. Emphasizing on this while speaking to ChoiceFLAME as the C.W.O members of his parish were about to embark on a drive to share foodstuff and other materials to the needy around, Fr. Paschal Nwosu highlighted that this is a time to show practical and responsible Christianity. “It is a time to show charity, a time to share our love in practical terms with poor among us, it is a time to give to the people” He said. Fr. Paschal maintained that the Church through her priests should be at the frontline of this campaign. He however, admonished priests to always engender hope to their faithful especially the sick while praying for them. “Priests should find time to take care of the sick in these trying times” he said.
He concluded with the words of St. Paul that our hope will not disappoint us. He expressed that our trust and faith is in God whose infinite mercy and power will help us curb this pandemic. He expressed his belief that things will definitely come back to normal as soon as possible.