The event, which was held on Zoom on Thursday 10th December, was attended by over 15 individuals, all of whom were past participants of the Columbans Invitation to Mission programme. The advent gathering was an opportunity for them to come together virtually and to reflect on 2020 and how the Covid 19 pandemic has affected each of them. The group heard from two participants who shared openly and honestly how Covid has impacted their work and their lives and discussed with the group their different perspectives of the pandemic. Columban Frs. Ed O’Connell and John Boles who are currently working in Peru, were also invited to speak about the challenges and difficulties they have faced over the course of 2020.
One of the participants who works for the Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe, spoke of the privilege of having a job and the sense of purposefulness it gave her amid a backdrop of friends who had been furloughed or had lost their job during the pandemic. She highlighted the inequalities that this pandemic has exposed and how it has heightened people’s fears and anxieties. She explained that Covid restrictions have given her a sense of closing doors and closing borders. She referenced the well documented images of migrants in India being pushed out of the city when the lockdown was introduced there.
The second speaker who works with young people in a school setting explained some of her experiences working as a chaplaincy. “During the first lockdown back in March I was familiar with the students, I had relationships established and could support the students appropriately however in September, the new school term started and I found building new relationships was more challenging.” She is pleased that the school has developed online pastoral services for the students which are essential given the lockdown restrictions and the fact that young people have been exposed to things such as domestic abuse and mental health problems which they may well seek support for.
Finally Fr. Ed O’Connell and Fr. John Boles explained to the group about Columban involvement in Lima, Peru and the struggles their communities have faced along with recent political instability in the country. “Losing loved ones to the virus or otherwise is a terrible thing to happen but it’s happening to often and to too many families here in Lima” explained Fr. John Boles. “We fear the true statistics of the virus are probably double what’s been reported”. Fr. Ed O’Connell informed the participants that Peru is expecting a second wave of the virus in February 2021 and a vaccine not until in the second part of next year. He told the group “With the help of mother’s from the local homework clubs we’ve helped to set up communal kitchens which provide nutritious meals to people on limited wages struggling to feed their families. With the help from benefactors we’ve been able to supply food, in particular vegetables and purchased health and safety equipment also.”
The participants were split into small discussion groups after hearing from the speakers and asked to share words or phrases with each other in response to what they’d heard. They also noted ways in which they feel called to prepare for Christmas.
One participant after the event said “Gatherings such as these feed the spirit and give me a sense of community” while another said “This is a good time to reflect on where we are, what the year of Covid 19 has so far been for us and to reflect on where we are called to when the time comes.”
The Columban’s Invitation to Mission programme aims to nurture missionary spirit and provide people with an experience of cross-cultural mission whilst following their baptismal call. Unfortunately because of the Coronavirus outbreak, the 2020 Invitation to Mission programme this year was cancelled. The team were planning a visit to the USA/Mexico border to spend Holy Week in El Paso, USA and in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Joining Coordinator Nathalie Marytsch on the Invitation Mission team is Columban Director for Britain Fr. Peter Hughes, Interreligious Dialogue Coordinator Mauricio Silva and Justice and Peace Education Worker James Trewby.
For further details about the Invitation to Mission programme and to register your interest for our next programme, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.