Bigger than Baltimore/ the COVID Catechism/ instructs the world/ on all the understudied/ vagaries and orthodoxies/ of a faith just starting/ to get a feel of the depth/ of its fragility"
- Greg Kennedy
June 26, 2020 — In Canada, COVID-19 has had an impact on all aspects of our lives since March and we have already shared the changes it has brought to our work. However, as Frantz Georges S.J. reminds us, “the spiritual experience is fundamental in the lives of all Christians.” What impact, therefore, has the pandemic had on this fundamental aspect of faith in the Jesuit Province of Canada? Who or what has helped Jesuits and their colleagues feel more energized, connected or perhaps a stronger sense of zeal? How have they felt God’s presence? From the different testimonies given here, we see that the same spirit, heart and hope seems to unite the members of the province, including Angela Kruger (Chief of Staff at the Martyrs’ Shrine), Brook Stacey, S.J., Frantz Georges, S.J., Marc Rizzetto, S.J., Greg Kennedy, S.J., and Fannie Dionne (Provincial Communications Officer).
“Obviously this pandemic has been easy for no one. Finding God in uncertain times is difficult,” began Brook Stacey, before he described the disruption to routines that has happened since March.
Our “normal” lives before were filled with structure, routine, deadlines and goals. Much of this time has been shaken up. The cold reality of realizing that this will be our new normal is settling in. Before, my prayer was filled with, “God, help me accomplish this task, help me to do well on this project, help me to speak well, to teach well... God, help me discern the right way forward. God, help me make the right decision.” Those future oriented prayers seem meaningless now in the midst of so much uncertainty.
This talk of uncertainty echoes comments made by Angela Kruger: “for the first time ever, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Martyrs’ Shrine has not been able to open in May and welcome pilgrims to its sacred grounds. At first, I was unsure how we could still be present to people while closed.”
Concern for others has also moved Fannie Dionne.
In the first weeks of the pandemic, while Spring was taking its time to arrive, it felt like there was a wind of desolation blowing. Everything changed too quickly. Against the backdrop of the constant stream of news, new government instructions and adjusting to working from home with my children, I became even more aware of my privileges and the social divides that had been hidden before now. How were those without access to clean water going to wash their hands for 20 seconds? How were single mothers working in grocery stores going to manage? And also, what was going to happen when COVID-19 struck refugee camps?
Despite the desolation and difficulties, all the testimonies seem to converge in saying that God appeared in different ways, notably through the grace of savouring the present. For instance, Brook Stacey has spent more time with Jesus.
Recently I found some grace. It came to me in prayer that perhaps now is not the time to make plans. It is merely a time to slow down and spend time with Jesus. There is so much out of my control. So, my prayer has just been sitting down, and spending time with Jesus. Enjoying His company. Maybe then I can learn to be more like Him - to be able to sleep in the boat despite the waves of the sea raging around me.?
Time and the importance of living in the present moment was also at the heart of Father Rizzetto’s reflection:
Ecclesiastes 3 :1-15 helped me to focus on what was fundamental, because there is a time for everything. But in all that, God stayed faithfully the same, He continues to accompany me subtly through the joys and difficulties that I am given to live through. The health crisis, coupled with the social isolation measures, has been an occasion to revisit my priorities in this new context. Suddenly I had time, time to relax, to watch films, to walk, to do a million other things within the limits of the lockdown. I should therefore use this time as well as possible to reorder my priorities, starting with the most important.
“During this time, I am trying to focus on slowing down, and entering more deeply into my own personal prayer life,” continued Angela Kruger. “I am grateful for my family, my family’s health, and the realization of how little we need to be safe and happy.”
Like Angela, Fannie Dionne highlighted the importance of thinking about daily joys. “This pandemic has made me realize the joy in little things. Being able to make the most of a ray of sunshine while working in my backyard. Having dinner with my children every day and seeing them grow up and find their independence. Savouring the moments spent with my parents, even at a distance. Running about less and making the most of life.”
As well as taking more time for oneself and with God, the pandemic has been an occasion to connect with others. As Frantz Georges explains:
In a more personal way, I feel connected through prayer to those who are denied access to the Eucharist during this crisis. All this allows us to pray for each other. My greatest consolation is knowing that we are all in this together and united by prayer despite the physical distance that this pandemic demands.
For Fr. Rizzetto, it’s his predecessors that he has gotten closer to.
It was through my long contemplative walks through Old Québec City, accompanied by my camera, that I became aware that I was walking in the footsteps of my predecessors. I thought about how they had to adapt on many occasions to new situations, counting on divine providence. The peace, tranquility and beauty of the city and the grace of God allowed me to appreciate how lucky I was to simply be there.
Finally, God has made Himself known through other persons who are pushed by His love to connect and help. Such is the case with the Martyrs' Shrine, as Angela Kruger explains:
I find myself overwhelmed at the grace we see every day through electronic communication. We have offered to have a Jesuit light a candle in our votary and to pray personal intentions, and people are using this as a means to reach out in a time that they cannot physically go out and pray. The gratitude, hope, and love that people are sharing is deeply beautiful and deeply meaningful. Even though we are surrounded everyday by the negative details of the sick, and the dying, I can tell you that we are witness to hope, prayer, healing, and gratitude at Martyrs’ Shrine.
Frantz Georges continued the conversation on the sick and the deceased.
I still feel the desire to trust God, seeing His hand healing those who are sick and calling those who have left us to Him. This has also helped me find God’s presence in the middle of the crisis. He is the one supporting the most vulnerable and those exposed to COVID-19. His presence also reveals itself in everyone’s openness and solidarity. God uses our hands and our physical and intellectual capacities to intervene in our daily lives.
For Fannie Dionne, it’s the gestures of her loved ones that have offered consolation.
In order to avoid being paralysed I tried to address, on a small scale, certain inequalities that I saw through donations, offers of help, listening and working. I was far from being alone: I saw many initiatives spring up to help bring food to vulnerable people, entertain elderly people at a distance and put pressure on institutions so that solutions could be put in place. One friend, who is a single mother and a student, offered to pay for the groceries of people who had lost their salaries and shared what little she had. One person on the verge of retirement volunteered, despite the risks, to work in a CHSLD. Everyone is helping each other.
“Fatter than the Family Bible / forgotten two generations before, the COVID Catechism/ is set to be an instant classic/ the kind that everybody quotes/ and no one quite remembers.” These verses by Fr. Kennedy are perhaps prophetic, but many members of the Province lean towards being hopeful, including Angela Kruger: "I love the human connection and acts of kindness that are growing within our communities, and through social media. I pray that the humanism we see today continues once this pandemic ends."
My favourite social media clip is a video poem by Tomos Roberts called ‘The Great Realisation’. They share that ‘the people all preferred the world they had found than the one they left behind.’ A world where we rethink our priorities and make positive changes speaks to everyone. Continued contemplation and compassion is something that I hope you will join me in praying for.
Fannie Dionne also hopes that the changes will stay: “COVID-19 has brought its share of grief. I hope that we will be able to draw on the solidarity and love that it created, that we will reduce the inequalities it has laid bare, and that we will better protect our common home so that the death and suffering will not have been in vain.
Hope is also appearing in more concrete ways, as Fr. Rizetto demonstrates:
Instead of a time of rest, I have been considered this period more as a springboard for what is to come. Both the renovation of the building at 14 Rue Dauphine and the arrival of the Manrèse Spirituality Centre bring hope. Saint Ignatius of Loyola wrote about this: “Act as if everything depended on you, knowing that in reality all depends on God.” (The Life of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, by Perdo de Ribandeneira). Through this project we are all looking for a better world, driven by the ever-new impetus of the Holy Spirit.
To conclude, we will let Frantz Georges sum up his reflection:
This crisis caused by COVID-19 reminds us once again how God works in the lives of every person, every creature. God does not abandon us. He will never abandon us.