COVID-19 And if so, what happens?

Sr. Ana Belén Verísimo García
Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation

This is the first question that came up inside me, and it has been with me since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic until now. In the face of everything that was suddenly falling upon us due to the force of an unknown disease which was spreading with incredible speed, and to which we had not given enough attention in spite of its presence in other countries: China, Italy…time and time again a question arose within me that I had heard many years ago from a Claretian religious who was giving  formation classes at the time of  my novitiate.

Yes, it was Fr. Jose Cristo Rey Garcia Paredes who challenged us, as an answer to one of our concerns, with a question that re-situated the insecurities, the lack of certainty and the vulnerability with which we embraced the vocation to the Consecrated Religious Life. A question that, at certain moments of my history, has helped me to focus on what is really important in my life.

The state of emergency in Spain due to the spread and the consequences of COVID-19 finds Sister Zoila and myself visiting our Sisters in Cameroon. Practically simultaneously, the government of Rwanda, which we had already passed through,  also declared a state of emergency. Days later, the same would happen in Cameroon, in the Ivory Coast, in Benin… countries which we would have to pass through as part of our programming. The psychosis generated by the number of people infected by the virus, the number of deaths, the empty streets, closed establishments, the obligation to “stay” at home, the rapid expansion of the pandemic through Europe, Asia, America; the speculations of what would happen when the virus reached the African continent… This was a psychosis that generated tremendous fear, as it destroyed our certainties, our programming and our controlled agendas. Everything was just happening too fast to be true!

And then, like a small light, the question that had been dormant within me for some time arose again: And if it happens, what happens? Well… nothing happens. Life does not belong to us. We receive it as a gift, and we are invited to give it as gift to the people with whom we relate. Life, this life, is perishable.

What can happen? The virus infects our communities and decimates our religious family; that I can die from one hour to the next; that people strongly connected to me, to us, can die: family, friends… And if it happens, what happens? Isn’t our life marked by an experience of faith that gives full meaning to everything that happens to us? The reality that we are living through leads us to profound questions that invite us to deepen our experience of faith, and… what a coincidence… on the way to Easter!

And in the midst of this experience, lived in the context of the African continent, where thanks be to God, it seems that the pandemic is not spreading as rapidly as anticipated, the prophet Micah resounds in an incisive and clear way (Cf. 6:8); a message gathered, with charm and delicacy, in the form of a mantra by the Ain Karen group: “Listen to what the Lord asks of you: it is only that you practice justice…love with tenderness…and walk humbly with your God”. Yes, to practice justice in these circumstances so disconcerting and limiting; to love with tenderness, to let life flow with all of its pain and its beauty, gathering and embracing our fragility… and to walk, again and again, humbly with our God.

And so, it was, that this whole disconcerting situation was presented to us as an opportunity to deeply live the radicality of our faith in a formative community of 19 sisters. This community lives the beauty and challenge of interculturality with six African nationalities. Yes, with them we lived the Easter experience in the simplicity of shared life; and with the anxiety of what will happen? And at the same time, we strengthened our trust in God, in the family ties with all the Sisters of the Congregation, with the whole Order and with the Church. These ties extended to people we had never met before. We joined with them in the pain and joy. Prayer, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. broke down the boundaries and allowed us to establish links that reinforced what was really important, presence.

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