The media keeps updating us minute by minute about the impact of COVID-19 here in Australia and around the world. We can’t escape the news. The coronavirus is severely impacting every aspect of our lives: lockdowns in countries and cities everywhere. Everything has changed, rescheduled or even canceled. Our movements are limited, and we are physically distanced from one another.
The situation has encouraged me to share my experience of self-isolation after I returned home to Melbourne on March 15 from meetings in the Philippines and Indonesia. I now see a new culture emerging around the globe. Before the pandemic, we would be waiting to pick up our family, confreres or friends at the airport. We would drive them home and spend time listening to their stories.
Today this is not happening. Anyone who arrives from overseas must now go into self-isolation for 14 days. Even if it’s a good way to protect everyone from the spread of COVID-19, this is a sad development.
I arrived in Melbourne the night before the 14-day restriction was put in place. But I was asked to spend some days at a different place before joining the Redemptorist community at Kew in Melbourne. At first, I felt hurt because there was no medical testing and I was treated like a sick person. Why did I have to go to a motel instead of my community of fellow priests and brothers? It was a strange experience and I was feeling very sad.
Knowing what was happening around us and considering the way coronavirus was spreading, I said to myself, “It is fine to sacrifice myself a bit” for the sake of my family (confreres) and society. I would continue to work with Fr Sam Kono in Kew on formation but from a distance.
Every day the situation changed and quite dramatically. My second morning in the motel, I went without breakfast because there was no food. It seemed everything was getting more and more difficult. As new restrictions were announced, I wasn’t sure I could complete my isolation at the motel.
So, I drove from Melbourne to Sydney to stay in a unit of the Redemptorist provincial house in suburban Kogarah. But I did not stay in self-isolation for the whole 14 days because there was news the government was considering closing state borders to limit the movement of people. I made the decision to drive back to Melbourne and stay in Brighton. Thank God the publications and media staff were working from home! I could self-isolate at Brighton without bumping into anyone else.
Self-isolation for 14 days was not my preferred option. It was a great challenge being alone. I was thinking about who I could meet and talk to during that time? Could confreres still come and visit me? I also checked with some people I met while I was overseas to make sure they were okay.
While it’s been difficult, it has taught me about other aspects of missionary life. I have more time to dedicate to my prayers for the world, especially for those who are affected by Covid-19 and those who dedicate their lives to help others. I now feel more negative about my health, even though I am not infected with coronavirus. But in this current climate of self-isolation, I realise it is not only me who has made sacrifices.
I received attention and care from others, especially my own family, confreres and mission staff. Fr John Hodgson (Provincial) showed care and humanity to me as ‘Prisoner No 1’ and to Fr Pat Corbett as ‘Prisoner No 2’. Fr Pat also had to self-isolate for 14-days after returning home from a 10-day trip to Cebu in the Philippines. Fr John served me lunch and washed my clothes. This experience made me understand how practical true and real love is for one another.
As my time of self-isolation came to an end, I dedicated a Mass to thank God for His blessings during these hard times. I am thankful that I’m still healthy, and I still have no coronavirus symptoms. At Mass, I had time to reflect about the Gospel message of the day. There was sorrow/grief in Mary and Martha’s family as they experienced the death of their brother Lazarus. There was no physical or spiritual distancing among them at that time.
People visited Martha and Mary to share their sorrow and to support them. Jesus also visited the family and went to the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus’ actions were at odds with what we are experiencing today with the spread of coronavirus and self-isolation. We must distance ourselves from one another and we have to isolate ourselves if we return from overseas or move from one state to another. We don’t shake hands anymore.
I now ask myself about my love for my Redemptorist family (especially in the formation house in Kew) and my love for all God’s creatures. Do I truly love them even when I am in self-isolation and away from them? Do I still experience their love and care in this situation?
Looking at the Gospel, Jesus’ response to Lazarus’ death was quite shocking, and yet inspiring. Jesus said, “This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory. I am glad I was not there because now you will believe.”
In this difficult time, the people of God might ask, where is God? Is this situation part of God’s plan? Being in self-isolation and spending more time in prayer, I don’t know if this is God’s plan. What I really believe is that my Lord, Jesus Christ is the Emmanuel God. I probably did not realise His presence during the 14 days because I was panicky and questioned myself: Am I fine? Can I see a doctor?
Martha and Mary were very distressed with the loss of their brother. But they believed that the messiah would give new life to Lazarus. God, the Emmanuel says, “I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live.” These words are our reassurance at this time of panic and difficulty. It brings us hope in this uneasy journey.
Jesus Christ, the Emmanuel God invites us in the Gospel to come out from our ‘tomb of coronavirus’—dark, panic, difficulty — so that we may stay fit and to reach out to “another Lazarus.” We do that by following the present protocols and guidelines for the benefit of our family, community and society. We need to unbind them from the image of the coronavirus infection and to let them go free with the hope of new life.
Jesus Christ is not with us physically, but He has sent his Holy Spirit to journey with us. He is our Emmanuel. Do we believe His Holy Spirit is with us? Do we trust the care and love from others (confreres/family/friends) even though we are physically distanced? It is not an easy situation, but I always remember that “with Jesus Christ, there is true joy and the fullness of life.”
Thank you everyone for your support and prayers.
God bless us and our world.