What is it like now as a priest in a parish without a congregation?
There is a sense of loss in this situation now. Reflecting on it what I miss most is not going to the small Christian communities. It was there that I met the people in their homes, in their situations with their neighbours, listening to them sharing the Gospel of the following Sunday. I still remember a blind woman reflecting on the healing of a blind man in one of the Lenten Sunday’s gospel and what she had to share was very powerful. I remember her saying we are all blind when we don’t care about each other. In the small Christian communities also the issues which affected the community there arose. The churches were closed just as we were about to celebrate Easter. We had been preparing with the catechists to go to the villages and baptise those who were ready for baptism and the reception of Holy Communion. That was a disappointment for me and also for the people who were being prepared and the catechists themselves. We would have been meeting twice a month with the catechists preparing the readings for the following Sunday, going over what to teach the catechumenate and also going over with the catechists how to lead the Sunday Service. It was an opportunity for us to get a picture of what was happening in the parish. The catechists are our contact with the people.
I feel for the school children now. I would say they are lost. Many of the bigger boys have gone to Kapoeta, seemingly just to loiter there. The fear with the girls is that there would be arranged marriages. Sometimes we meet with the school children and they would ask us when is the school reopening. For a while we encouraged the children to come and read in the library. Some of them took advantage of that. However when it was known that there were people in Kapoeta with the corona virus, we decided to stop that service. Children often go to Kapoeta so there was a worry that they may bring the virus into the Church compound. The other issue would be the scarcity of food. When the children are in school, they would get a breakfast of porridge, a lunch of cereal and pulses and if they are boarders a supper of cereal and pulses. For some children that was their daily food.
My niece teaches PE in a secondary school in Ireland. Schools are closed there also However she has been able to continue teaching her students via the internet and at the end of May which is the end of the acade mic year in Ireland, she organized a virtual sports day for the students. Don’t ask me how that worked. Even in this continent there are people with access to good internet, iPads and smart phones and learning is continuing for those children. However children in places where there is no access to internet or who may have to fetch water, gather firewood, take care of smaller children, take care of animals are at a complete disadvantage compared to their peers in other parts of the world. It is unfair.
My final thought would be that I miss the children around the compound. They bring life to the place.