Let us not live the present waiting to return to the past

by Bp Jose Luis IMC

Pastoral letter to the diocese of Manzini

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

“The Word became flesh”
“Livi laba yinyama”

Ascension of the Lord

Before ascending into heaven, Jesus gathered the apostles and sent them to the whole world to make disciples, baptise, teach… (Mt 28:19). Not sure you noticed but that is all He said. No details. How would they do that? Who would have to do what? The apostles never asked either. They never knew what they would have to face but they trusted in Jesus’ promise: “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20) “You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:8).

An extraordinary missionary year (EMY)

Announcing this special time of grace for our diocese I never thought we would face months of it in a full or partial lock-down. We planned special events thinking everything would be as usual. It was not. It is still not and we are all unable to talk about the future.

It is the context that has changed, not our call. We remain “baptised and sent”. The EMY has not taken a break “until we go back to normal”. There might not be a going back to normal in the future and we will then be called to be missionaries in new ways.

Our diocese quickly reacted to the new situation:

  •  Once the world was affected by the virus we started our daily prayer
  •  Holy Masses became available on our diocesan YouTube channel
  •  Daily podcasts of reflection and prayer are sent to you daily
  •  Masks are being distributed to the parishes
  •  Projects supporting the poorest in the country were organized, I am deeply grateful
    •  to all of you and our sodalities for the immediate support to the diocesan projects. We have raised Emalangeni 56,435.09 and we do hope contributions will continue to increase;
    • to the religious sisters who are able to reach those who need it most caring for their health, food and spiritual needs;
    •  to the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) who accepted to generously support two projects we presented at the service of our Good Shepherd Hospital (Euro 30.000) and raising awareness in rural areas (Euro 10.000)
Our parishes also looked for ways to be close to each one of you through the adoration of the blessed Sacrament, writing down your names on the benches of the church, WhatsApp groups, distributing food to the poor…

We also show our being Christians by caring for each other in the most simple things like keeping social distance, wearing masks, washing our hands, being careful of what we share on social media… Do not underestimate any of this, remember Naaman when he was asked by the prophet Elisha to wash seven times in the river Jordan (2 Kings 5: 1 – 14). Every little act of love counts!

This virus reminds us that the “save yourself” (Lk 23:39) being shouted at Jesus crucified is never the solution. Solidarity is the only way forward for the present and the future. 

New challenges

There is still much more we need to be aware of and many more people and situations we need to reach:

  •  We have suddenly been unable to nourish our faith through the sacraments and our coming together. Some took this time for a deeper personal prayer and spiritual nourishment but others found themselves completely unprepared not knowing how to be close to God;
  •  For some this has been an opportunity to spend quality time with the family but for others it is a source of family tensions together with the awareness that we are also unable to pray together. Tensions and abuse might have become “normal” for them;
  •  For some, again, this personal time was something deeply needed but for others it has became a source of depression and anxiety;
  •  While “stay at home” is used all over the world as a prevention measure, for some the place where they live has revealed “not a home”, others find themselves crowded in a small place and others do not even have a place to stay;
  • “Wash your hands” we are also told, but what do we do when there is no water?
  •  The same slogans given to protect us have revealed the weakness of our personal and social fabric;
  •  What about all the self employed people, selling in the streets whose only income is what they themselves are able to make on a day to support their families…?
  •  How is all this impacting in the lives of our children and young people?

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ”1 the bishops of the world wrote over 50 years’ ago.

Our diocesan initiatives, important as they are, only reach a small percentage of the people. God’s question: “where is your brother” (and where is your sister?) (Gn 4:9) calls you and me to know what each one of them is going through and then make ourselves neighbours like the good Samaritan (Lk 10:36-37).

Preparing for the future

The future might be nothing like the past. The World Health OrganisationEmergencies director called us to consider the possibility that the COVID19 never goes away.

The Lord’s promise to be with us and the gift of His Spirit does not expire. Let us not live the present waiting to return to the past. Let us look at the present and to the future and, with the same faith, hope, love and enthusiasm, look for new answers to new challenges. It is us who, today, once again, having been baptised are sent by Jesus.

May God bless you and Mary our Mother protect you,

+ José Luis Ponce de León IMC
Bishop of Manzini
Feast of the Ascension of the Lord
21 May 2020

1Gaudium et Spes 1
2The World Health Organisation’s Emergencies director, Dr Mike Ryan issued a grim warning to the world on Wednesday, advising against predicting when we would see the back of the COVID-19 virus. “It is important to put this on the table – this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away,” he said from Geneva, via a virtual press-conference.
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