Capuchin brother feeding the hungry during the COVID-19 pandemic

Circular Letter No. 4/2020

May 3, 2020

Good Shepherd Sunday

Our Collective Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic

Dear Brothers,

“Those who believed shared all things in common; they would sell their properties and goods, dividing everything on the basis of each one’s need.”(Acts 2: 44-45)

Peace and all good!

In spite the challenging situation we are in, I greet you all with the joy and peace of our Risen Lord!

I personally consider these first three days of May grace-filled days for all us. On the first of May we celebrated the patronal feast of our fraternity in San Jose, GMA, Cavite, St. Joseph the Worker. On the second day, a feast close to our hearts because our Spanish confreres, the Divina Pastora was celebrated at Bahay Capuchino and remembered in the entire Province. And today the Church celebrates Good Shepherd Sunday.

A golden link joins each of these feasts together: the call for compassion. To be compassionate means to be in the shoes of the other; to feel what the other feels. More often than not this would entail defending and protecting the powerless, seeking the lost and embracing in one’s mantle of protection those who thirst for consolation and justice. We won’t be as compassionate as we would be not unless we “smell like the sheep” and consequently suffer along with them by the means through which we care when we become their voice as we cry out against the injustices they experience.

At this point, I would like to thank the brothers for the help they have extended the people we are called to serve most specially during this time of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The brothers truly found creative ways of being present amidst their flock even during the enhance community quarantine. Sometimes in serving they have put themselves into the risk of being contaminated.

Immediately mindful of the need of their flock, who have the necessity to gaze upon the countenance of our Lord, let me express my gratitude to the brothers who brought the Blessed Sacrament in procession around their parishes so that the people may see and worship Him who remains with all of us until the end of time (Mt. 28:20). I have received personal messages from parishioners expressing the great consolation they felt when at a certain day they suddenly heard the ringing of bells and upon looking out of their windows they saw one of our brothers walking with the Blessed Sacrament with monstrance in hand. In such a scenario, they could hear our Lord say, “Do not be afraid, it is I (Mt. 14:27)”. We had parishes who even at the simplest did not do away with the Good Friday and Easter Sunday processions giving a strong consoling message to others, “Our faith remains alive and let yours be too!”  Even parish-fraternities, who are ill-equipped with live streaming technology, for the love of the people who thirst for the Eucharist broadcasted the celebration of the Eucharist, Eucharistic adorations and the praying of the rosary.

The brothers during the time of the enhanced community lockdown were not only sensitive to the spiritual needs of the flock but their material needs as well. Commendable is the almost immediate response of the Provincial Commission on Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, together with the good number of brothers in the different fraternities, in spearheading programs to feed the street dwellers, front liners and the poor. With the brothers going out of their way to help, “questing” or soliciting funds for the needs of others, they proved that the Capuchin tradition of caring and being present for others at the time of crisis is indeed very much alive! What is heartwarming about how these brothers responded is that they had no second thoughts in offering their help! I would like to personally thank all of these our brothers for looking after others who need our help.

There is no denying that the enhanced community lockdown has affected the status of several aspects of the life of the Province as well. Let me, in this letter focus on just some of them that we may be able to attempt responding proactively to some concerns. Not in any order of priority shall I take up here some of these in any order of priority.

It is obvious that the Provincial Economy is affected by this pandemic. We are well aware that for several weeks now our parishes, schools, the retreat center and other institutions of the Province remain closed. And these institutions which contribute much to our fraternal economy may remain closed until several months if not for several weeks more. The quota obtained from these institutions fund specific needs of the Province. For example, the monthly quota of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes covers the payroll of regular employees including their government dues. The monthly subsidy of formation houses are funded from the quota from fraternities attached to parishes. The quota submitted by the two Lourdes schools are distributed to the different programs like formation and used also to fund operational expenses of the Province like medical expenses of the brothers. Without the full operation of these institutions the possibility that they won’t be able to turn over their quota to the Province looms. How will the Province cover for all the expenses in the coming months?

At the start of the pandemic the Office of the Provincial Economo and the Provincial accounting office made ways to give assistance to our employees providing for them whatever the Province could, even if these employees do not report for work; stretching it as far as possible at the same time maintaining with prudence a “healthy” Provincial economy which could sustain us in the coming months should the lock down extend; hoping that this would be sufficient enough.

Fraternal solidarity urges us to cut down on our expenses. We should exert the best in trimming down expenses on bills on service utilities in our houses. If we did not practice this before let us be conscious of the amount we spend for it and cut down on these expenses. Now, more than ever are we called to live an austere and simple life.

The Capuchin Retreat Center in Lipa City, since the lockdown started has had no retreatants; thus it had since no income. If the pandemic continues, its fund will not be sufficient to pay for its expenses. The payroll alone for its employees is Php 300,000.00 monthly. For utilities it has to pay Php 65,000.00 per month and for the security guards it has to pay Php 66,000. CRC has cut down on the number of security guards it employs through the agency during the pandemic to bring down the cost. When the lock down is lifted, it is contemplating a rotational schedule for its employees to bring down the payroll at the same time assuring the employees of their security of tenure and financial buoyancy both for the institution and the employees in the months to come.  Legal consultation has been done regarding this plan. The compensation we give to our employees are from the income we get. Since we do not have any income these days we might not have the salary to pay them for their services.

We may have to do the same in our respective fraternities concerning our particular employees. The fraternities may have to reduce the number of days the employees report for work. We may ask employees to report only on certain days.  Br. Antonio B. Ala II, OFMCap., Provincial Economo is willing to make himself available to the fraternities to explain this proposal to their respective employees when the lockdown is lifted..

There are some fraternities which have workers on “volunteer” basis, most of which are parishes. It is might be best that we no longer ask them to come for work. Again this will cut down our expenses. It might be a good practice for the brothers to do themselves the work done by our volunteer workers. Besides lowering the expenses of the fraternity, its value may be seen as a form of witnessing to our life (e.g. brothers cleaning the church, watering the plants, sweeping the patio of the Church, doing their own laundry, etc.)

The Office of the Provincial Economo also recommends that fraternities with caregivers and nurses also trim down the number of care-givers and nurses. We pay a sizable amount of money to the health agency for the services of the health workers.

We appeal again to the fraternities and parishes that no new construction should be started during the period of the pandemic. Besides the financial and economic effects new construction may afflict on our local fraternities and in the Provincial Economy it could be counter-witness during this time. If there have been work done before the start of the pandemic and is ongoing, let these be continued with prudence, modesty and sensitivity to the current situation.

Another aspect of our life which is affected by the current situation is formation. The Province has ever since set formation as one of its priorities. Formation concerns and activities also take a big chunk of our economic pie. We hope that the attention we give to formation yields a harvest for the good of our witness to Gospel fraternal life placed at authentic service to the Province and the Church.

The Office of the Provincial Economo has suggested cutting down on the expenses incurred while celebrating Post-Novitiate Experiences. When holding post-novitiate experiences the candidates to our life need to travel from their respective fraternities to the venue of the experience. This gets a big share of formation expenses. The recommendation now is to hold some of the post-novitiate experiences at least at the time of the pandemic in the respective localities. The post-novices from the different stages of formation could perhaps gather together only once a year.

There are several other ways by which each local fraternity could contribute to easing the financial burden of the Province. I heard reports that brothers from some fraternities had waived receiving their monthly allowances. I hope each fraternity would meet in a chapter these days so as to be able to help not only their local fraternity financially afloat these trying times but the Province as well.

Our parish churches, shrines, schools, retreat house and other institutions should at this moment also prepare for the “new normal” when the lockdown is lifted. For the parishes, the Archdiocese of Manila has published some guidelines for liturgical celebration which may be worth the study.

This Covid-19 pandemic challenges us not to fend only for ourselves be it personally, for our fraternity only or only for the institution we were tasked to minister but let our perspective take the wider view- the good of all. This leads us, this time, to break down the walls that divide us. These walls could be the ones that make us secure yet keep us distant from the needs of others. It is about time we tear down these walls. Only those with genuine concern and compassion for the good of all could dare do so.

Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace… so that in all things (only) God may be glorified through Jesus Christ to whom belong glory and dominion forever. Amen. (1 Peter 4: 8-11)”

Alleluia! The Lord is truly risen! Alleluia!

God bless you all!

Fraternally,

Br. Eugenio Juanilo P. Lopez, OFMCap.

Minister Provincial

Capuchin Philippine Province of Our Lady of Lourdes

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here