In the Eye of the Storm

Sr Chiara Mary Tessaris, OP
English Dominican Congregation of St Catherine of Siena (Cambridge)

I see my experience of lockdown as one good example of how God is able to write straight on crocked lines. 

When lockdown started in the UK in late March 2020, I was at the end of the last term of my two-year noviciate and I was engaged in pastoral placements at St Dominic’s School, a Sixth Form College and at the Catholic Chaplaincy for London’s Universities. Needless to say, I was saddened by the abrupt way in which my apostolate came to an end, as I was greatly enjoying working with such a diverse student population.  Co-teaching General Religious Studies in a multiethnic and multiconfessional school was a very challenging and rewarding experience.  Some of my colleagues became good friends and lockdown has only contributed to bringing us closer through both technology and prayer.  Many of them shared with me that as their lives were abruptly slowed down, they started to reconsider their real priorities, one of which is friendship, a gift we often neglect to cherish when our busy lives take over and free time is a luxury. 

My passion for the apostolate notwithstanding, I have to admit that it also entailed investing a great deal of energy and travelling, often at the expenses of the more contemplative dimension of the Dominican charism.  I am very grateful to have experienced so early in my religious life the struggle to keep the balance between the contemplative and the active dimension of our vocationLockdown came to me as a welcome opportunity for a time of personal reflection and deep prayer, which I really needed at that stage of my noviciate.   I found refreshing even the unusual silence that suddenly fell on the city as traffic and public transport almost completely halted. 

As far as the apostolate was concerned, paradoxically as it may sound, the distance that the lockdown put between the university students and me only contributed to bringing us close to one another and deepened our commitment to sharing our faith and friendship in Christ.  Before lockdown, we discussed the possibility to set up another Faith Study group in addition to the one we were already running, but the hectic pace of life that the students were leading at that time made it difficult to translate our plans into reality. After Easter, the students suggested that we resumed meeting at least “virtually” on Zoom and this led us to set up a new Faith Study group that kept us going through the summer and that is still running today.  

In the meantime, my main concern was for my family in Italy and especially for my brother, who lives near Bergamo, one of the most affected areas at the time of the outbreak of the pandemic.  I will hardly forget the images of the over 33 military lorries carrying the coffins of the many victims that were soon to be given a proper and respectful burial outside Bergamo.  I never saw as clearly as in those days that we really are in God’s hands.  Faith in Him gave me peace. 

The lockdown also brought us closer as a religious community.  Finding ourselves suddenly deprived of our apostolate inevitably gave us more time to spend together and I found this very positive as it enabled us to live through these challenging circumstances together as a community, sharing our personal fears and struggles. We are also able to discuss new ways to balance our community time together with the inevitable need also for personal space and solitude. Lockdown has also challenged us to rethink our apostolate and to find new ways to reaching out to people. 

It is somehow paradoxical that in times of social distancing and limited freedom of movement we find ourselves growing increasingly closer to one another across borders and time. 

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