Shops are shut. Supermarket shelves are cleared. Roads are deserted. People have set up offices in their homes. Borders are closed. Schools are empty. This is the current reality of COVID-19, whose effects are being seen all over the world and being felt by no doubt every family.
Some people have asked how we, as Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, are facing the COVID-19 situation, how it impacts our daily lives, and how it challenges us to continue reaching out to others.
As with many people here in Australia, most of our Sisters come from overseas. The distance from family members and friends is felt more keenly in times of crisis. While Sr Grace, who has been in Australia for sixteen years, says she does not often feel homesick, she acknowledges that “in the current situation, the distance between Australia and other parts of the world seem to be bigger than usual. I do hope that God will keep them all safe: my immediate family and friends wherever they are.”
COVID-19 has caused challenges and changes of plans for everyone. As our provincial leader Sr Margaret says, these ruined plans are actually “a great lesson of humbleness and trusting in God’s providence.” Self-isolation has become a challenging reality for many people, and for several of our Sisters too.
Sr Jean, who has isolated herself for two weeks as a precaution, says that she feels safe in the convent and is finding new and creative ways of doing her regular activities, especially her weekly tutoring lessons and her daily walk. She now conducts her sessions on Messenger or Skype and walks on the grounds of the convent property. “We do have lovely trees, flowers, grassy areas,” she says, “but I miss stopping at the shops for a purchase, seeing people walking on the footpath or having the enjoyment of an occasional morning tea with a friend.”
For Sr Irene, her life in the time of COVID-19 has also changed quite a lot. A regular volunteer remedial teacher in Good Shepherd Primary School, Plumpton, Sr Irene now finds herself housebound. But she is still very busy and creative! “Sr Grace gave me an idea how I can help with the pandemic by sewing face masks,” she says. “A great idea!”
Many people across the world are now facing changes in their work. Sadly, many have lost their jobs, while others must adapt to changing conditions in the workplace or even to working from home. For Sr Emilia, who works as a nurse, the last weeks have been busy with urgent surgeries. “We are the only ward in the hospital that is open,” she says, “so we are taking all the patients across different specialities.”
Sr Rita and Sr Sophie, both hospital chaplains, see the difficulties that the current situation has on patients, families and staff. Sr Rita says, “Every time I walk into a hospital ward, to see the patients I am visiting….for the elderly, it’s very difficult for them to understand that family members are restricted to come and visit them and for some it’s not possible.” Sr Sophie describes the growing atmosphere of tension and anxiety: “I see more and more each day how stressed people are, and even more how much people simply need someone to be present to them and to help them feel loved and not alone.”
Sr Grace, who is the Program and Engagement Representative for the Institute for Mission in the Diocese of Parramatta, now finds herself working from home and needing to learn new skills, such as broadcasting and conducting meetings and programs on Zoom. “I do miss interactions face-to-face with the people whom I serve and work with on a daily basis, but I learn new ways of reaching out and keep everyone in my prayers more intently than usual,” she says.
A difficult reality for many people across the world is the closure of places of worship. No doubt, Sr Bogumiła reflects the feelings of many with her words: “For me, the most challenging restriction of social distancing is the lack of participating in the Holy Mass with others and receiving Holy Communion every day.”
Easter will likely be very quiet without the traditional ceremonies. We see the incredible efforts of our pastors who are striving to be with us sacramentally in new ways, especially through sharing prayers, devotions, and Mass online. On April 2, we were able to connect and pray with many people around the world as we streamed our monthly Holy Hour for Vocations online. Sr Paula says, “Sometimes it reminds me of my childhood. Back then I couldn’t go to the church, because communists persecuted and closed churches. But now I can practice my faith, I can pray and I know it will finish. I hope it will finish soon.”
Although the current situation is not easy, it is important that we are still able to find joy and positivity. Sr Paula shares a nice thought she heard: “Don’t concentrate on Coronavirus. Concentrate on God, because He is mighty.” For her, this is an opportunity to share faith and joy with people who need it, and to give them “hugs of prayers.”
Sr Bogumiła expresses a similar thought: “Love of our neighbour is physically limited, but my prayers are with my family, Sisters and friends, families and all who need prayers in this difficult pandemic time.” For Sr Lois Ann, life during COVID-19 is slower, but also “a little more reflective with the joy of additional quality time with my Sisters in community.”
Sr Jean remembers the importance of trusting in God in this time. “Like some other experiences of hard times in my life, I learned some valuable lessons because of God’s guidance and constant love through helping me through them, rather than taking them away.”
Turning to the prayer of St Teresa of Avila, Sr Margaret tries to embrace her challenges with hope and positive thoughts and sees this as “the time of deepening my faith that God is in every second of my life and exactly where I am. He suffers with me and helps me go through it with trust.”
COVID-19 separates us from one another through social distancing and isolation. Yet it also challenges us to stay connected, to continue to find new ways to be with people, and especially to reach out to people who may be going through a difficult time. Wherever you are in the world, and whatever you are going through right now, know that at this time of Easter, when we focus on the victory of live over death, we pray for you and your family.
Contributors Sr Rita Apura, Sr Sophie Boffa, Sr Irene Kubaki, Sr Margaret Kozub, Sr Bogumila Malikowska, Sr Lois Ann Richardi, Sr Grace Roclawska, Sr Emilia Smolak, Sr Paula Volchek and Sr Jean Wojcik are all Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.