Dear Priests, Deacons, Religious and Lay Faithful of the Archdiocese of Bulawayo,
"Set your hearts on His Kingdom and these other things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the Kingdom."
- Luke 12:31-32 -
All over the world this year due to Covid 19 outbreak we face very serious challenges in every field of life. Every field of knowledge, science and technology is put to extreme test. No individual, organisation, church or country was ever prepared for such a pandemic. This challenge also put us to a great test spiritually and pastorally. For the first time in the history of the Church we were forced to cancel all the public liturgical celebrations for such a long time. To miss the Holy Week liturgy was very painful for most of us. Pastorally we had many plans this year to experience our discipleship very closely with Jesus. But all our plans went into a forced spiritual and pastoral sabbatical due to the current situation. Consequences of this situation will persist for a long time. This has both positive and negative effects on us.
I am extremely humbled that during this trying times many of our faithful in the Archdiocese of Bulawayo used their prayer corners very devotedly. Some almost made their prayer corners 'mini altars' for prayers and para liturgical service during the Holy Week. I was amazed to see some of the photos of the faithful how they used their prayer corners for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. 'Domestic church' of Catholic families have to be alive and active. Well done. Keep up your faith. Holy Spirit is at work among our faithful in many ways. I sincerely thank some of our priests who made available Holy Mass through live streaming and spiritual reflections through audio and video clips for meditations and prayer. Of course high price of data and slow speed of internet was a major challenge to us all in accessing these. It made many of our faithful to be spiritually linked to the Church. May God be glorified for the innovative ways of our priests and faithful for their spiritual life.
Not being present as a community of the faithful for public worship in our churches may have serious effects for a long time. Some of our faithful may have lapsed in their faith. Especially most of our Mass Centres in the rural missions have been left alone for a long time. Financially our parishes and missions will have very serious implications. Probably we can think of two scenarios in future. One scenario is that after this lock down many people will come back to Church with stronger faith while other could be that we might lose some of our faithful forever. This might make us think anew the role of the laity in the Church using various ministries. Let us think of the early Christian community as we read and learn in Acts of the Apostles. As pastors we need to have new strategies to revive the faith and re-establish our parish communities. We need to use the media and technology the right way for the pastoral use. We need better outreach programmes.
Pope Francis said: "I'm living this as a time of great uncertainty. It's a time for inventing, for creativity... Yes, I see early signs of an economy that is less liquid, more human, but let us not lose our memory once all this is past, let us not file it away and go back to where we were. This is the time to take the decisive step, to move from using and misusing nature to contemplating it. We have lost the contemplative dimension; we have to get it back at this time."
This time also gave us ample opportunity to think well spiritually and pastorally. Therefore I invite all priests, deacons, religious and the laity to bring forward your suggestions to me to find a new strategy to serve the Church spiritually and pastorally. All your suggestions are most welcome for the good of the Church to serve the faith.
The pastoral council of the Archdiocese of Bulawayo and the Senate of priests will have to discuss these matters seriously as soon as we are able to meet. I invite each deanery also to discuss ways and means to improve our pastoral care for the faithful. I have few questions for your consideration to stimulate our thinking process. You may kindly use them to suggest ways and means for the future. I appreciate your care and concern for the Church of God. You are free to send me your response as early as possible.
1. What serious challenges did you face spiritually during this lock down time?
2. What pastoral challenges did you encounter during the lock down time?
3. How can we revive the faith and spirit of our faithful from now on?
4. What should be done to improve the catechetical and faith formation in the parish/mission?
5. How can we enhance participation of the faithful in liturgy?
6. How can we cater better for the various age groups during the Holy Mass?
7. What social and charitable activities can we have in our parish/mission?
8. How can we sustain our parish/mission financially?
As the Archdiocese of Bulawayo we have tried to assist our hospitals and clinics to be prepared in case of real emergency with basic things and we hope to get some more assistance. Should a serious need arise we will make available some of our schools and certain facilities to accommodate people for isolation. Some of our facilities have been visited by health officials to check for requirements. In Bulawayo all the various churches and denominations are very actively involved in this regard.
Let us keep praying for safety of our people and the pandemic to end at the earliest.
May the Lord keep us in His love and mercy.
+ Alex Thomas
Archbishop of Bulawayo