by Fr Ncamiso Vilakati
In my past three years here in Rome, never have I seen a quiet, serene eternal city before. Staying right at the heart of the city, habitually until 4am, there is movement of people. When all of a sudden there is unobtrusive and withdrawn noise that itself seems so foreign to me. The Covid-19 pandemic (coronavirus), has brought to a standstill the once glorious Rome. How sad it is when we see from television how subdued Rome has become not withstanding my other beloved city Milan.
It is at this very moment, when many call the Holy Father to show his faith, as successor of St Peter. Some have amassed so much ammunition to stylistically present him as a person of less faith. Not only is that not so true, but it also devoid of substance. The Holy Father, the other Sunday visited two Basilicas, on foot where he showed his devotion to Our Lady and also to our Lord himself. Pope Francis left the Vatican unannounced to pray at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (St Mary Major) and then walked along Via del Corso, (one of Rome busy streets) to visit SanMarcello church (near the “headquarters of our beloved priests of the OSM), to pray before a crucifix that was used in a procession when the plague hit the city in 1522. Here he, prayed for an end to the pandemic and also for the sick, their families and health providers and workers keeping pharmacies and food stores open amid a national lockdown. Not only did he do the Urbi et Orbi( blessings and address given at Easter and Christmas from the central window by the Pope, at St Peters Basilica, at the Vatican, noon time directed to all Christians worldwide and the city of Rome), he manifested his pastoral stewardship, to the people in Rome and the entire world. He prayed in front of our Lord.
Last Sunday as I listened to the Gospel, and me being in Rome I took the position of the Samaritan woman. She had gone out to fetch some water in the well. To her, she had gone to draw some water which gave her physical life, life that will sooth her for quite some time. Yes, the time was a bit awkward, but she knew of the value of the water although an outcast in society. It cleansed her physically as she bathed and quenched her thirst. So this water to her, in its physical aspect served those two formats i.e. cleansing and to quench a thirst. Albeit for her, on this particular day, she found herself with a strange man. And she was not yet aware of who this person was, until the stranger gave her a historical background of her trade. That was when she realised she was speaking to a Prophet. For me I think she realised that she had found not only a physical waterhole, but now she was lucky for she had found a spiritual font. Here Jesus told her that, if she tasted him, she would have life eternity. The Holy Father , through his spiritual exercise this past Sunday, did the same by observing these two dimensions of the “well”.
Probably, as we have heard that there are now three people who have contracted the virus back home. Fortunately our Bishop, Jose Luis anticipated this, as on the 2nd Sunday of Lent we all observed what he wrote on his newsletter. A great proactivity indeed, instead of waiting for things to get worse and then react to it. This has encouraged one, through his own volition a time to reflect on the Roman experience. Fr Zweli living a few kilometers from my area, keep each other in touch not only through WhatsApp and other social media platforms but through the eternal water of praying for one another. We have also been saying to one another, prudence is important at this particular time, by listening to what the government of the Republic of Italy is saying so that we can be physically safe. At the spiritual plain, we ought to be open to the Spirit of the Lord by praying for one another as the Holy Father has demonstrated these past few days. The close of the Churches, by his vicar, Cardinal Angelo, was not a sign of faithlessness but a sign of prudence.
Going back to our catechetical formation, when we profess our faith we usually say, “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father”. The word consubstantial would mean, Jesus has the same substance as the Father as well as the substance of mortal nature. It shows us that he is 100% human as well as 100% of the same with that of the Father. He has the capacity to have normal human feelings but at the very same time as God. The Church has “sacramentals” which are blessed by the priests. These may include the cross, rosaries, medals and all others. We also bless Liturgical vestments, but the Bishop consecrates Church’s, Chrism and others. A priest celebrating Mass, consecrates the species of bread and wine and the become the “Body and Blood of Christ”. Through the words of an ordained priests, the substance of bread and wine is completely changed into the body and blood of our Lord through, Transubstantiation. Hence, I would urge the people of God, plea with you at this moment, although we are baptised, we ought to listen to the directives of health practitioners. It is only prudent not a sign of lack of faith. For we as humanity, cannot be transubstantiated but we remain as physical or material as ever. Hence the transmission of the corona virus is possible when we meet and be closer to one another even if blessed by a priest. Remember we are blessed not consecrated. Therefore we ought to wash our hands thoroughly, maintain a one-meter distance from one another. Our greetings we don’t have to shake hands. Masks are only for doctors, nurses and patients(and those who have tested positive). I can assure you my brothers and sisters, this is what has kept me going as I reside with the 35 priests from the different shores of the planet. We have increased the number of Masses where we pray for the people of God and yourself. We have ensured of our safety until we return back to our respective Dioceses.
I’m sure you were thinking of saying the Church ought to organise a countrywide prayer. Let me assure you that wouldn’t be prudent at this particular time. “Io resto a casa, tutto andra bene”, (I am resting at home, and all is going well), is a slogan for the Italian nation. I know you are a believer, and being prudent at this particular epoch, doesn’t necessarily mean lack of faith. This is a moment where Fr Ncamiso and Fr Zweli your priests in Rome are called to decipher, meditate and reflect what it means to be prudent which is not a sign of faithlessness. Our Holy Father has shown the way, he prays for us through live streaming, and has reached out through his priests who through the guide of health practitioners visit the infirm. May we do so through our prayers.
May God bless you always