Columban serving in new ways in Santiago, Chile

Fr Marco in front of a parishioner's house. Photo: Fr Marco Henriquez SSC

Fr Marco in front of a parishioner's house. Photo: Fr Marco Henriquez SSC

Columban Fr Marco Henriquez lives and works in the Archdiocese of la Serena, which is about 6 hours from Santiago, Chile. He became a parish priest in December last year, and there was no priest in residence for the previous 16 years. It is a large parish spread all over the countryside. It has 43 communities. This part of the country has been severely affected by ten years of drought. So life for most of the people here is tough.

Earlier this year in March, we were getting ready to celebrate our first Holy Week in this place. There was high positive energy as we were planning how would be the best way to celebrate Holy Week. But everything came to a sudden stop because of the CODIV-19. Every public gathering was forbidden. All of a sudden, we found ourselves confined in the parish house unable to celebrate mass or any other sacrament.

We decided to make this difficult time as an opportunity to find new ways of reaching out to people.  But first, we had to learn to let go of the old ways of being in a parish and things that we took for granted. We decided to celebrate mass on Facebook, and it proved to be a great idea. We arranged our dining room in the parish house and became our chapel. During Holy Week and after every celebration, we went around the houses, blessing the families and giving them communion. We followed the regulations provided by the authorities. To keep the distance, use the facial mask and the use of Alcohol gel for the hands. People did the same.

After Holy week we continued to celebrate mass on Facebook. People send the names of their deceased relatives, and we offer the eucharist for them. We added an extra eucharist on Thursday, and after mass, we have a brief moment of prayer with the blessed sacrament. We were gladly surprised but the number of people joining us for mass. We would get messages even from people from other parts of the county.

After Holy Week we decided to visit people in their homes. Every week, we take 2 or 3 different communities. We go around the houses and bless the families. We do not go inside their homes. They wait for us in front of their homes, and from a proper distance, we greet them, and after that, we bless them.  We do not shake hands or have any physical contact with them. We feel this is the best we could do at this difficult time. We want to let them know that they are not alone, that we will face this pandemic together.

Fr Marco in front of a parishioner's house. Photo: Fr Marco Henriquez SSC

Fr Marco in front of a parishioner's house. His team decided to plan and work around the liturgical calendar. Photo: Fr Marco Henriquez SSC

Whenever we have a funeral, it usually takes place in the house of the deceased. We try to make sure that people respect the distance and that only the close relative would attend the funeral. But it does not always work out.

Now we decided to plan and work around the liturgical calendar. There are so many possibilities to be creative and reach out to people. On Pentecost's day, we will have a night liturgy, and after that, we will go around town, blessing the candles that people will have ready outside their homes.

No doubt, this is a challenging time, but it is also a possibility to be creative and find new ways of being with people.

Columban Fr Marco Henriquez is from Chile and served in Pakistan for many years.