“It’s not what we feel we all want at this time, but maybe this is the fast our Lord has appointed for us this year. Maybe this is the cross we are to bear this season.” -Fr. Chris Moore
In recent days, the outbreak of COVID-19 has presented us all with unprecedented challenges. All around the world, nations are struggling to contain the virus and find a treatment for it. This, inevitably, has an impact on the work of OCMC, and especially on the lives of our missionaries in the field. With that in mind, we want to share some updates from a few of our missionaries.
Fr. Chris and Mat. Jen Moore serve in South Korea. Mat. Jen was recently flying back to South Korea with their 2 sons, and though they feared that their travel might be interrupted, they made it back safely. The Metropolis of Korea has requested all people to stay home, aside from the priest and a couple altar servers and choir members. To help laypeople with the challenge of missing church services, the bishop is live-streaming Bible studies every Sunday. They are all also asked to pray together at 10pm every night for the world, both those affected by the virus and those trying to stop it.
While many American workers worldwide have evacuated and returned to the States, the fact that our missionaries have all decided to stay and continue serving their flocks is a true testament to their faith, dedication, and love. This truly is an especially difficult Lenten period for all of us. Although resources are so limited, we encourage you to keep offering the missionaries your prayers and support, as they need them now more than ever.
Fr. Stephanos and Pres. Alexandria Ritsi serve in Albania. They report that Albania is modeling its approach to the response of other nearby countries (Italy, Greece, etc.). Traveling by vehicle is prohibited, and foot traffic is only allowed from 5 AM to 1 PM daily for grocery and pharmacy shopping. Gatherings are prohibited, and all schools are canceled; unfortunately, many institutions don’t have the infrastructure to switch to online classes. Restaurants, coffee shops, and retail shops are under a forced closure, and only grocery stores and pharmacies are allowed to remain open. As with the rest of the world, COVID-19 tests are limited – so while 212 cases have been confirmed so far, the estimate is that the actual number is much higher.
The Church’s response has followed the government initiatives. Services have been canceled, with the exception of the Divine Liturgy. The Liturgy is only celebrated on Sundays, and includes an abbreviated Orthros with only a single priest and deacon celebrating (and, in some cases, a bishop). The church services are closed to the public. Daily services are also being broadcast on the Church’s radio station, so that people can participate from their homes. The Church’s soup kitchen is now giving out food as takeout, rather than offering sit-down meals. More broadly, they are all practicing social isolation to help slow/stop the spread of the virus. The rest of the missionaries are all still healthy and are doing their work online from home.
Fr. Juvenal serves in Guatemala. He managed to reenter Guatemala several hours before travel into the country was banned completely – and only made it past the border by showing the guards a newspaper article which described that the ban did not start until midnight. He was truly dedicated to getting back to his flock! Fortunately, Fr. Juvenal is back in Guatemala now, but is in mandatory quarantine as a result of his recent travels.
Jesse Brandow and Juanita Pascual also serve in Guatemala. They report that the Guatemalan government has banned all public transportation and private buses, has suspended all in-person classes, banned events with more than 50 people, and has placed limitations on per-customer purchases to ensure that stores keep essential items in stock. The government has issued a nation-wide call to prayer and fasting, dedicating Saturday as a day of solidarity for people of all faiths to pray together during this crisis. Churches have been asked to suspend their physical gatherings and move their services online, and the Orthodox churches have been doing so.
As Fr. Chris Moore reflected in a recent Facebook post: “It’s not what we feel we all want at this time, but maybe this is the fast our Lord has appointed for us this year. Maybe this is the cross we are to bear this season.” May God bless and keep you all safe and healthy.