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Unprecedented move in modern times: Holy Week celebration without the presence of the faithful

FOR the first time, the Church would be celebrating the Paschal Triduum in quietness and isolation from crowds.

However, Bishop Cornelius Piong, in acknowledging the sad reality, seized the hope that this enforced quietness and loneliness would help us to deepen our understanding of what Jesus had to experience – when He was alone at the Garden of Gethsemane, at the judgement before Pilate, when he was carrying the cross and at the Crucifixion – in order to abandon himself to the Father’s will so that humanity might be freed from the bondage of sin. In truth, the Bishop pensively reflected, that to be able to have such faith, it begs similar experience.

In his Pastoral Message, released on Apr 2 to help God’s people everywhere to prepare for Holy Week, the holiest season of the Church’s calendar year, he succinctly suggested, “Perhaps we may have based our Christian faith on rituals, church gatherings of believers, impressive church buildings, or illustrious preachings, and or other external matters, but have yet to experience what Jesus experienced – suffering and dying prior to His resurrection – in abandoning Himself to the will of the Father who sent Him.

The Movement Control Order is still in force, a fact that would surely put a restraint on our celebration of the Holy Week this year, beginning from Palm Sunday, to the Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday, noted the Keningau bishop.

Though these celebrations would be without the presence of the faithful compared to yesteryears, lamented Bishop Piong, he was filled with the certainty that “we are able to accept the sad situation because of the assurance that Jesus is with us. The church is not merely a building and is not about numbers; but more than that, the Church is essentially a community, and that community starts with a family, the domestic Church (Mt. 18:20).”

He shared the hope that the lonely experience, which we suffered in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, would help us to experience Jesus’ suffering with a faith that is born out of a sacrificial experience, as suffered by Jesus, so that those who follow Him, would “not think of self, but would carry his cross everyday and follow Him” (Lk 9:23)

Acknowledging the fear and anxiety experienced by many in these difficult and frightening times, and the many questions that would arise, the bishop urged all “to refocus our life and faith on Jesus who had Himself experienced anxiety, suffering and death but is now alive and is with us”.

He invited the people of God – whether priests, religious and secular institutions, catechists and laity – that as we enter into Holy Week, to “humbly pray that our faith and confidence in Jesus, who is present with us, be strengthened and empowered again for Jesus is with us and cares for us; therefore, there is no need to be afraid.”

He also encouraged the faithful, that during this MCO, to “take this opportunity to be aware and to reflect on our love relationship with God. Had we been, before COVID-19, ‘taking for granted’, or not being appreciative, because we thought we could live without Him?

“In these frightening times, do we still believe in our human capabilities? This is the time for us to renew and re-establish our union with Jesus as He Himself said, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15: 4-5),” added the bishop.

He wrote “It is also the opportunity for us to renew and increase our responsibility towards our fellow human beings. The situation must help us to see how we can be more attentive to the needs of our fellowmen. For example, complying to the order to stay put at home would help to break the chain of transmission of the infectious COVID-19. Don’t just think about yourself. It is also our opportunity to be aware and appreciate the importance of harmony for God’s creation. All have causes and consequences. For example, we believe that the Coronavirus is a result of an abuse of technology in the name of progress.”

On a more positive note, he advised that “we also need to look at the positive side caused by COVID-19. As the whole world is forced to curtail movement or ‘lockdown’, environmental pollution has been significantly reduced to the extent that the ozone layer of the earth is able to recover and heal on its own. Families who have not been together for so long because of busyness have been able to stay home together. The great powers of the world seem to admit their limitations and begin to look to God for help.”

He concluded with a prayer, asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit “to awaken us to act on improving our relationship with God, our fellow human beings and with God’s creation which is inseparable from our daily lives as disciples of Jesus”, and as Easter people, “to face the pandemic situation with one mind and with our eyes fixed on Jesus on the Cross and towards Mother Mary”. – AC

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