The holy mass without congregation
Can it ever be imagined that the Holy Mass could ever be publicly celebrated in the church without members of the congregation? So sad to see around the world Holy Masses being celebrated by priests in empty churches! Such is the situation the pandemic corona virus has brought to many Catholics. For a devout Catholic, the Mass is the centre of all other religious activities. Worship at mass involves physical presence and active participation of the worshipers where the reception of Eucharist is the culminating point of such participation.
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During the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, which saw many countries all over the world go into a blind alley, Holy mass was no longer unique. Many Churches where deserted as government policies struck the whole planet. For instance, what used to be a Church holding a capacity of about 500 worshipers was closed and consequently, zero worshipers recorded either on Sundays or weekdays. A pastor, Fr. Boniface Kioko, from the Catholic Diocese of Machakos, Kenya, recounts the pastoral experiences and challenges of his parishioners.
TESTIMONIES OF FAITH
While witnessing to heroic faith of the people, Fr. Kioko narrates some of the pastoral challenges evident during the period of Lockdown.
Use of Social Media
The Catholic Church in Kenya adopted the use of the Media for live streaming Masses a few weeks after the Lockdown was announced. Machakos Diocese was not left behind in this media streamed liturgical activities. While the Television and Radio served as the traditional sources of fulfilling this task, social media platforms, mainly Facebook and YouTube were principally used to live streaming masses and other liturgical activities. Thus, this was seen as an easy means to serve the faithful at such desperate and challenging chapter of their life.
Nevertheless, this new way of pastoral experience was not without further challenges:
a. With regards to poverty characterizing many developing countries, not every Catholic would afford the relevant media gadgets like Television and Radio receivers, and Smartphones. Also, among those who could afford it, not many of them have the technical skill involved in the use of the social media as greater majority were digital immigrants.
b. Poor or lack of network access in most upcountry populations is another challenge. The problem of digital divide militated against the use of the social media in many parts of the diocese.
Fr Kioko was among those badly hit by this challenge. Working in rural Kiongwani, Makueni county with no internet coverage, pastoral ministry was extremely difficult for him. He did not, however, resigned to fate, but rather, he resurrected the old missionary tradition of his earlier predecessor, Fr Andriano Bonafante, an Italian priest. Fr. Bonafante, in 1989, installed loudspeakers, and the projected voice could reach a three-kilometre radius. With them, he was able to reform the Kiongwani society from witchcraft and the tradition of cursing wrongdoers. The challenges of the pandemic aroused the initiative in Fr. Kioko to use the same loudspeakers to broadcast masses, stations of the cross, the rosary and other liturgical activities to the villages within that three-kilometer radius. Commenting on the experience, Teresia Luka, who usually joined the activities from a neighbouring village of Munakye said: “The speakers are very clear that even when the priest is conducting usual morning mass in his house, we always follow to the end, and it gives us hope”.
Rev. Fr. Boniface Kioko Shows the Public Address Speakers Tower
Motivation to Intensify Family Prayers
In Machakos Diocese, the pastoral administration went further to instruct the faithful, through their Pastors, to continue praying at home using their families as domestic churches. Although Morning and Evening Prayers used to be obligatory, during the lockdown they were to be taken more serious. In each gathering, daily Biblical readings, according to the liturgical calendar, are read, followed by a reflection from one or possibly each family member depending on how each was inspired. But this has its own challenge too: What about families in the upcountry without literacy? In such families, only prayers would be possible without the scriptural readings and reflection.
Offertory During the Lockdown
Most faithful were already used to giving offertory during the Mass, so during the lockdown some felt their devout life was incomplete without this exercise. They proposed to the clergy that they could still send their monetary offering electronically (through the M-Pesa) to the parish priests. After some evaluation by the Diocesan leadership, the proposal was accepted solely for those who were willing. This worked without challenges, and facts on ground showed that the offertory was even greater than before the lockdown.
Administering to the Sick
Administration of the sacrament of anointing must continue even while solution to the pandemic is being sought for. Therefore, priests were given directions on how to attend to the sick. On invitation to administer the sacrament of anointing of the sick or on his own volition, the priest was to take precautions by wearing gloves and a mask, while observing the distance. He was meant to use cotton wool to anoint in place of thumb finger.
As a ritual very important in the socio-cultural milieu of Africans and other races also, burial masses of deceased Christians continued though in a very limited number. The number of the congregants was limited to 10 to 15, and the local government officials had to monitor it as agreed with the clergy.
By Francis Chinonso Okoye, Martin Mwaluko Kilonzo, Abel Nduwimana