Finding positives in the pandemic



Researching the difference between the word ‘change’ and ‘transformation’ recently, I came across the following statement: “Change is a response to external influence, where modifying day-to-day action achieves desired results. Transformation, on the other hand, is about modifying core beliefs and long-term behaviour - sometimes in profound ways to achieve the desired results.”

Transformation is what I would call the experience of many of us, if not all, as we face the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many things have been shared about how this pandemic is negatively affecting us, but have we ever thought about its transformative potential? 

I am still flabbergasted by this virus that has already taken millions of lives. It is transforming my whole sense of life on earth. If I cannot learn something new as a result, then I never will! In Article 35 of his encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis writes,“If only this may prove not to be just another tragedy of history from which we learn nothing… If only we might rediscover once and for all that we need one another, and that in this way our human family can experience a rebirth.”

For many months, whole cities, even countries, have been in lockdown and people movement severely restricted, with no one permitted to travel internationally or even more than a few kilometres from their home.

I live in a council house in Dublin, about an hour’s walk from the city centre. During lockdown, my ministry and meetings with the diocesan Youth Ministry and the Lay Mission Group moved online. My own movement was limited to the house, the park, a local cemetery and the shops. For many months that was my world, and it brought positive changes into my life. The changes included being more connected, through technology, with family, friends and those in my ministry, even though I was physically distant from them. I was also spiritually nourished - not being able to go to the church seemed to bring about a deeper longing for God.

I have become more aware of the vulnerability of life because I have no control over this pandemic. I became especially aware of my mortality when I contracted COVID-19 myself. This brought me to a deeper surrender of my life to God. As I considered each night the possibility that it could be my last, I experienced deeper gratitude for the gift of life. I also formed a deeper spiritual connection with my family, as we prayed the rosary every day, no matter what our situation was.

I have also begun to set aside time for silent prayer. This is not just a change that I see happening now that will later disappear. This is a transformation that is going to remain with me. We need one another to realise the truth that we are not alone, even if we have been physically isolated while person-to-person gatherings are prohibited.

Lay missionary, Angelica Escarsa, outside a La Salle pastoral centre in Dublin. Photo: Angelica Escarsa

Lay missionary, Angelica Escarsa, outside a La Salle pastoral centre in Dublin. Photo: Angelica Escarsa

I truly hope that the worldwide tragedy of the pandemic has strengthened our sense of being a global community. “…we are part of one another, that we are brothers and sisters of one another” (Fratelli Tutti, Article 32).

“God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us’” (Fratelli Tutti, Article 35).

Pope Francis’ words prompted me to see how timely the Columban International Youth Encounter is. It brings young people from some eleven countries together to share their experiences through the Internet. They need this platform because it brings them into contact with their peers, not only from their own countries but from other parts of the world.

I hope this pandemic will bring transformation within all of us and profoundly modify our core beliefs and long-term behaviour. I hope it will awaken within us the desire to become whole by recognising our need for connection with others.

“Amid this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about appearances, has fallen away, revealing once more the ineluctable and blessed awareness that we are part of one another, that we are brothers and sisters of one another” (Fratelli Tutti, Article 32).

Angelica Escarsa, from the Philippines, has been a Columban lay missionary in Ireland since 1999.

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