I’ve been serving in Taiwan since 2011 as a Columban Lay Missionary. After my Mandarin language studies, I was assigned to work in the ministry to migrants and immigrants and their families, and victims of trafficking. At present, I serve as pastoral coordinator for the English-speaking community at the Hope Workers’ Center (HWC) in Zhongli, mostly working with Filipino migrant workers who also serve as volunteers at the center, especially during Sundays when we facilitate 3 Masses.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Zhongli can hold around 600 parishioners per Mass including those who are standing outside and those who are standing along the narrow hallways of the building. It is a small parish but many Filipino migrant workers and a few Indonesian and Vietnamese students come to the center and the church on Sundays. This was the normal scenario for many years up until a few months ago, before the outbreak of Covid-19.
Just like all churches in different parts of the world, we also had to stop welcoming parishioners to attend the Sunday Mass. We had to consider having an online Mass via social media. We also cancelled many of our pastoral and cultural activities at the centre. Several weeks ago when the Taiwan government announced that we can slowly resume the gatherings by observing social distancing and other safety and health precautions, we started to welcome back a small number of parishioners on Sundays and added an additional Mass schedule. We asked for everyone’s patience and understanding because we couldn’t accommodate all of them. It was a difficult and sad situation that we had to endure.
For the Filipino migrant workers, Sunday is the day of the week when they take a break from work, meet with their friends, and savor a one-hour time with God by being present and participating in the Mass. They will endure the heat or heavy rain and stand outside the church just to attend the Mass. For me, as pastoral coordinator, my focus had to shift from facilitating seminars and on-going faith formation of volunteers to facing the technical world of organizing the online seat registration for the Massgoers.
For a few months now, Taiwan has been blessed not to have any new Covid-19 cases. This has allowed us to slowly consider adding more numbers of parishioners in the Mass. While the term “new normal” has been widely used to describe our way of life now, I wish to say that this is just temporary and I pray that one day, we could go back to how our Sundays used to be in church – having no such restrictions and freely going inside the church to participate and share in the Eucharistic Celebration.