Lent in quarantine with the gift of mission in a Mongolia under coronavirus lockdown
The “mission first of all sparks a process of transfiguration in us. If not, it would be just a job,” said Fr Giorgio Marengo. Mongolia has closed its borders and suspended schools. All pastoral activities are on hold. Masses, rosaries, youth education, and Lent catechesis are conducted via social media. The parish of Arvaiheer is conducting a survey to see how to improve its services.
Arvaiheer (AsiaNews) – Mongolia has locked down all schools and banned travel. Pastoral activities have been suspended to avoid the coronavirus infection. In such context, “one realises that, before and above everything we can do in terms of projects and activities, there is a dimension of giving that takes place in a deeper way. Even if there is nothing outside, one discovers even more that the mission before it is an activity, something you do, it is a dimension of the spirit,” said Fr Giorgio Marengo, a Consolata missionary who has been in the Asian country since 2003.
Fr Giorgio is saddened and concerned by the news about the infection, especially from his native Italy. But the latter is affecting Mongolia as well. In late January, the Mongolian government closed the country’s borders with China. Flights have been cancelled and no one can enter or leave the country, which has reported four coronavirus cases so far.
As a result of the situation, pastoral activities have been halted. For more than a month, Fr Giorgio’s parish in Arvaiheer has been closed as Masses in its large ger (yurt) have been suspended. The parish kindergarten has also shut down, sewing classes put on hold, whilst free showers are no longer available.
“Every day, we get messages from the Health Ministry with directives about the precautions to be observed,” explained the clergyman. “In this sense, we greatly admire the efforts of the Mongolian government to prevent contagion and closely follow all official orders. Officials often come to check if we are in compliance and we work with them.”
With respect to Lent, “we have lost its communal experience,” but “this has not stopped “the creativity of the faithful, with some coming up with personal initiatives in support of the faith.”
Meanwhile, “Pastoral outreach has moved to social media, whilst private messages and telephone calls with the faithful continue with people asking every day for the passage of the Gospel to meditate on.” At the same time, “we are also happy to see how people from different religious traditions are engaging in prayer and solidarity.”
Fr Giorgio has had however to halt the preparation of catechumens, and it is still not clear weather Holy Week services will go ahead. For the missionary community, two priests and two nuns, the freed-up time is being used to "reflect on how to sort out its activities when they are possible again.” To this end, “We have prepared a questionnaire to conduct by phone asking for suggestions on how to improve our pastoral services.”
“At a time when activities are at risk, we realise that we are here as a gift, that the mission is a dimension of the spirit,” said the clergyman, mindful of being a missionary in a foreign land.
As “Saint Paul said: ‘I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.' He was a prisoner, experienced all sorts of deprivations in his pilgrimage to get to Rome, and then spent two years under house arrest. He did not build structures, but continued to be consumed by the love of Christ.”
The ongoing constraints "could be a lesson for us to rediscover that the mission, before it is a thing one does, is an inner dimension that one experiences, namely giving oneself to God in response to a free giving that one received, i.e. the missionary vocation that exists even when one cannot preach or do work.
“At this time of crisis, it is clear that the mission first of all sparks a process of transfiguration in us. If not, it would be just a job. To exist, the mission must not be based on great works, but on inner beingness. This does not mean fleeing the world, but rather being consumed by answering the Lord’s calling, transcending what one can do.” (A.C.F.)