The COVID pandemic has brought many challenges and changes to every person and every organisation. In our situation here at St Rose’s Chapel, Prayer Garden and Poustinia, with lockdown, which began at the end of March, all activities such as: scheduled talks, retreats, Scripture study groups, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, reflections and opportunities for private prayer were put on hold.
Notices were placed on the outer door of the project, informing the public, that all was closed.
For us as a community, this new reality has become a real challenge. Much reflection was needed on how we could adjust to the rapid changes, abide by the constraints for safety and still be connected to people and support them in their difficult circumstances.
Efforts to support people
During lockdown, many people phoned in or came to the door, with requests for prayer and to light a candle for their intentions. The prayer requests were inserted in a Prayer Book in the chapel and we kept those intentions in our prayer during the Divine Office and the Holy Hours on Mondays and Thursdays.
As the chapel was closed and greatly missed by the people who frequently come there to pray, we created a shrine outside the front of the house. There we placed a cross and a statue of Our Lady surrounded by plants and flowers. The cross was draped in different liturgical colours as we celebrated Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost. We also created a display reminding people of the Pope’s Prayer Intention for each month and invited passers-by to join us in prayer. It was so moving to see that as people walked by to the nearest park for their exercise, many stopped on the path outside in front of the shrine. Some made the sign of the cross, some prayed and stayed and reflected for a while. Some commented on the fact that they did not know there was a chapel here until they saw the cross and the shrine.
The COVID 19 pandemic has brought bereavement to many families in our neighbourhood. On several occasions, funeral corteges stopped outside St Rose’s, and mourners assembled on the pavement outside, two metres apart, to pay their last respects. The Sisters led some prayers and we all sang hymns. In the absence of church funeral services, this little gesture brought much consolation to the bereaved.
Help from people
What was overwhelming for us during this time, was the kindness of people who brought food and provisions and called regularly to enquire if we needed anything. We were very aware of our own security and the insecurity of others. The economic and other difficulties that people were facing, became more evident during the pandemic. In such cases we were able to help those in dire need. We helped people through charities such as Caritas. On people’s behalf, we wrote and submitted grant requests for rent, funeral support, and provisions. We also helped a school in supporting underprivileged children.
Easing of lockdown
Since the Government and the diocese announced the lifting of some restrictions, there has been a gradual and cautious opening of St Rose’s project. We reduced the number of people admitted to the chapel and the garden space had two metre marking for social distancing. A sanitising station was placed at the entrance together with notices informing people about sanitising, the wearing of masks, and two metre social distancing.
To ensure that there was a maximum opportunity for people to pray, we kept the chapel and the Prayer Garden open from 8.00am to 7.00pm. We also organised three Holy Hours each day: 11am to 12.00; 3pm to 4pm; 7pm to 8pm. This gave opportunity to those who wished to attend. 7 people were invited to join us for the Divine Office.
God knew better than us!
When the chapel reopened, we removed the cross and the statue of Our Lady from the front of the house. After all, the purpose for having it there was no longer relevant. Or so we thought! Soon people rang the doorbell enquiring why the shrine had been removed. There was disappointment and a sense of loss. One caller said: “You made a big mistake when you removed the shrine. That is your shop window! Those symbols of our faith tell people what you are about!” One morning we observed a young man, standing in front of the statue of Our Lady. When approached, he smiled and said: “She my Mamma! She helps me. She looks after me!” We thought we knew what was good, but God knew better!
What have we learned during lockdown?
First of all, we learned that our ministry here is not static. It is God’s ministry and it is for us to listen and discern what that is in The Now. We need to be open to new ways of preaching and responding to God’s people and to be present to those who need our love and compassion. Being preachers of the Gospel, is for ever old and ever new. St. Dominic and St Rose pray for us.