Ministering in the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines

Father Kwang-Kyu Peter Dae-chu. Photo: Columban Mission Magazine Office, Korea

In the Philippines, the number of Coronavirus patients has dramatically increased since the beginning of March 2020. President Rodrigo Duterte’s Government imposed the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) over the entire Luzon area. However, the local situation is quite different now. Some cities in Luzon have decided their own strategies – the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine – while other cities stay with the ECQ. Everything depends on the number of confirmed cases in each city.

I live at Santa Rosa de Lima Parish in Cabangan, Zambales. This parish is in the Diocese of Iba. Many Columban missionary priests in the Philippines were missioned here in this Diocese before me. My parish priest is Fr John Arge, who was a Columban seminarian but is now a diocesan priest. He invited me to work with him in his parish. I found him a good, gentle and kind priest.

One day, I received a message from one of the parishioners. “Fr Kwang-Kyu, is Fr John in the presbytery? I have tried to ring him, but he didn’t answer the phone.” I replied, “He is not here. He went to Iba. Can I ask why?” “Because of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick,” she said. “One of my colleague’s father is in a critical condition. So, could you please come and anoint him?” I asked her where I should go for the Anointing and immediately left to go to the house.

Father Kwang-Kyu Peter Dae-chu. Photo: Columban Mission Magazine Office, Korea

When I arrived, I saw an old man, who was in his 80s. He was in severe pain. He looked as if he was having difficulty breathing. It looked like he was in a critical condition. I thought he might be at the moment of death. I simply greeted the family members, and then I administered the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. They were crying while I was anointing him.

Whenever I meet people who are dying, I always ask myself, “What is the meaning of life?” I become humble and experience the grace of God in them. Before we finished the Sacrament, I asked all family members to recite ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ together. The old man was also praying with us. After we finished the prayer, we remained silent for a while. The house was filled with peace, and he was not having difficulty in his breathing anymore. Then, I saw his granddaughter. I asked her to pray for her grandfather who needed her prayer. And she promised me that she would.

A few days later, I heard that the old man had passed away peacefully having received the Sacrament. After leaving the house I got into my car and suddenly I realised, “Oh, no! I didn’t wear a face mask. I touched his body. He may or may not have the Coronavirus.” I put my hand sanitizer on my hands and grumbled about the situation. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16). Jesus then mentioned about his Passion. However, Peter was not able to accept it. He even took his master aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” (22) Suddenly this Gospel came to my mind while I was grumbling and washing my hands. I felt a sense of shame.

At my priestly ordination, I prostrated myself before the altar of the Lord. I prayed to God, “I am just a tool in your hands. So that I do not have any right to refuse all the Sacraments what I have been granted as a priest. No matter what, wherever the people of God ask me to administer your Sacraments to your beloved people, I would go there without fear and without condition.” I admit these are not normal circumstances, and therefore I would not be severely criticised or bitterly denounced for my anxiety. Even though I witnessed the grace of God with my own eyes, I came across as a priest who was over-worried about his own safety and comfort.

Many people sacrifice their lives for others. Through the sacrifices of many people, our lives can last. And then, Jesus reminds us of his resurrection through their sacrifices. The Lord is speaking to us, and he always turns our human weakness into strengths.

“In the world, you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33).

Columban Fr Kwang-Kyu Peter Dae-chul