Reflections: Fr. Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas, SCJ

Fr. Juancho

We invite Dehonians, co-workers and other collaborators in SCJ ministry to share their personal reflections regarding the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in their lives and their communities. The following is from Fr. Juan Carlos (Juancho) Castañeda Rojas, SCJ, a member of the US Province currently in Colombia.

One of the legacies Fr. Leo John Dehon gave to us Priests of the Sacred Heart was his call for us to “get out of the sacristies,” something that even Pope Francis has called us to do. During my pastoral year in Brazil, I was able to understand the meaning of those words when I went to very poor and isolated communities where people were only able to go to Mass maybe once a month because of the distance they had to travel to church and the lack of priests available to visit them. Today, “getting out of the sacristy” takes on a whole new meaning when we can’t even leave our houses.

Right now, I am in Colombia and the number of people affected with COVID-19 is growing, as well as panic and fear. We are asked to stay at home in quarantine and that results in limitations to get food and other supplies because many places are closed, as are the churches.

Some people may say that priests are staying in their churches because they are scared. But to be honest, I see an awakening in many priests, priests and religious women who are finding new and creative ways to “get out of the sacristies” by using social media and other forms of communication. Mass celebrations, Adoration, praying the rosary, and even catechesis is being done online. They are reaching out to their parishioners when the people need it the most and I see how important it is for people to feel that even when the Church is physically closed, they still have a connection to it and God; they still belong to their home parish.

Today, as this pandemic affects the entire world, there may not be people physically in the church buildings. But it is clear that the Church lives in the hearts of people. Processions and other celebrations were silenced, but today we can hear people praying the rosary louder, praying from the balconies or the windows of their homes. People who hadn’t gone to Mass regularly are starting to do so online.

Today we may be locked in the sacristy, but that is just a physical space. The REAL sacristy is in our hearts. It is not easy for me to be at home knowing that many people need us today more than ever; it is not easy for many of us to be away from our ministries. I know this personally because I have been away from my ministry in Houston not for just a couple weeks, but for months, and this has been a really hard situation for me.

But I have found a way to be closer to people because I know they need some presence to help them to feel closer to God. I need this too. We can do this through our devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and come closer to our Heavenly Mother by praying the Rosary every night. I do this with my family and share it on Facebook.

What a beautiful experience this is, sharing this moment of prayer with my family with many other families in many different places, all at the same time. This is not an easy time, but I know that we are going to have an extraordinary Easter celebration. We have to remember that Jesus did not stay on the cross but rose from the tomb. We can also rise again to new life in our hearts.

Today we have to stay at home, stay in our sacristies, to slow the spread of the virus. What we can spread is a message of hope and love.

We may not be able to bring physical communion to the people of God, but we can still bring God’s love through God’s word to the entire world in many creative ways.

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