"We realized that we were in the same boat, all fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and necessary, all called to row together, all in need of mutual comfort. All of us are In this boat, (...) We are not self-sufficient. Alone, we sink. We need the Lord like the ancient sailors needed the stars..." Francis
22,719 cases as of April 26, 2020. 5 weeks of quarantine. I don't want to talk about those we lost because no figure would be accurate. They are numbers that allow us to share a universal drama and that do not necessarily respond to reality in a country where the results of COVID19 tests are just beginning to yield data closer to the truth. No one was prepared for this. No one can think at this time what the future will look like in the mid and long term.
In our Province, the scenarios are diverse. We can speak of those who have lived through the quarantine in the two communities of the mountain ranges (Quito and Zumbahuayco), those who have experienced it in Muisne, those who are experiencing it in Guayaquil and those who, because of the imposed immobility and the state of emergency, have had to experience it with their own people because the mandate of obligatory isolation took us by surprise during our visit to our families since it was the time of school holidays.
For one and the other, care for the most fragile, deep and prayerful communion with those who suffer here and around the world, and gratitude for those small services that are invisible, have been the main priorities.
In our Province, Holy Week has always been eminently missionary. The Communities organized themselves with Assumption Together to go out to the most distant and least attended to villages and to offer the liturgical celebrations of the Easter Triduum accompanied by mostly young missionaries. It was an intense moment to live the Holy Days by proclaiming the Word, or announcing the mysteries of the Passion by accompanying the ‘cross’ of the most disadvantaged among our people. But the quarantine forced us to find other missionary ways to accompany our people, the teachers in our apostolates, the young people with whom we work, Assumption Together, through the networks and the different virtual platforms.
A different Holy Week...more prayerful, more "indoors" with our crucified people present in other ways: in the thousands who have left us because of the pandemic, in the grief of so many loving families, known and close to us, in the shared bewilderment, the helplessness and the questions: What more can we do? How can we help more and in a better way?
The questions gave way to creativity. For those of us who are in Guayaquil, the wounded city with at least 7000 deaths (unofficial) and the epicentre of the pandemic in Ecuador, we have been given a pastoral of closeness and support through the networks, to console, strengthen, accompany, empathise with, create helpful links through very small and concrete things: providing medicines that are in short supply, food, shopping for those who cannot, contacts with doctors, etc... and above all with prayers constantly asked for by one and the other. Sharing with people the daily fear, the scarcity, the feeling of constant loss, the anxiety about the increasing number of cases and the health security measures that were getting worse as the days went by, being satisfied with what is necessary, fixing our eyes on what is essential.
The images that went around the world were for us a sad reality with very concrete names: unburied bodies, anonymous deaths, relatives looking for their dead, families that could not be accompanied in their grieving nor had the comfort of burying their loved ones. Our lay people have been greatly affected, and with them we also experience the strength of community and the power of the Resurrection.
Those of us who lived these days confined with our families, rediscovered the value of the domestic Church, the strength of having roots and the missionary outreach of every gesture. We have learned to be and to build community in another way: virtual and free meetings, shared prayers on the web, celebrations and online festivities are multiplying. It is up to us to share our time between housework, teleworking, pastoral care online, a different way of praying...
There are some very difficult times ahead. We have long virtual meetings to reflect with our collaborators on what to do to make the impact on the lives of the families, collaborators in our works, less devastating. New salary policies, new forms of solidarity. There is already 35% unemployment in our country with this crisis, which, to make matters worse, has seen the price of oil fall to less than $38, bleak for an Ecuador that lives off oil production.
I conclude this account, probably very similar to what our Sisters in other latitudes are experiencing, with a family anecdote:
"We needed to go out and to be in touch with the people in the area. We had not been able to do so because we were much reduced in number and because the makeup of the Community did not make it possible. But the Lord gave us the gift of meeting with the families of those stricken, with the poorest and with the neighbours in a very free and peculiar way that the Community read as providential. It was like manna in the desert. The goodness of God came to us through an avocado tree planted by Cecile, our founding Sister, a missionary all her life in our land. It was the first time that it bore fruit and it was late because the season for bearing fruit had passed. Each day we harvested some fruit for ourselves and for sharing with others.
This gave us a reason to open our doors and to be closer to the situation of penury and need that many people are going through. We began to call the neighbours, the people we know that are in need, the convalescents, to share these with them since doctors prescribe this to those affected by COVID19 to replenish their PH. We call them, we leave the delicious fruits at the entrance, they come in to take them and, in turn, they leave us a little something. It's a very beautiful exchange, distant yes, but very meaningful..."
I conclude borrowing some words of Sr. Dolores Aleixandre, rscj, which express much of what we live: "Yes, we have learned a little more, not to separate God from life itself, not to desire any apotheosis outside our daily lives. We are beginning to understand what the Incarnation is. We are, like Nicodemus, being born again".
Maria Eugenia (Mayi) Ramirez, r.a.
April 26, 2020