Lockdown changed life in the Philippines for Columban seminarian Jerry Lohera and spurred him to get planting fruit and vegetables to ease the stress.
From September 2019 up to the first week of March 2020, I and four other Columban seminarians (one from Fiji, two from Myanmar and one from the Philippines) used to take part in pastoral work every Saturday at the New Bilibid Prison, a high security compound housing over 20,000 prisoners in Muntinlupa, on the outskirts of the Filipino capital Manila.
We were there to accompany the inmates as they dealt with the frustration of being incarcerated and the slow shattering of hope. “How is life outside? Is the Coronavirus still being contracted by people?” were questions they asked at what unexpectedly became the last meeting we had due to the growing threat of the virus and the need to restrict movements.
With lockdown, a strict regime of ‘quarantine’ was implemented. Schools were closed with a suddenness that caught everyone unprepared. Loyola School of Theology, where I and the other Columban seminarians study, cancelled all on-campus lectures and everything went online. At the seminary, our cook and other staff were asked not to report to work in order to protect everyone in the house.
So we seminarians started to do everything to keep the house running – from cooking and cleaning to ensuring that social/physical distancing was practiced, as well as frequent hand washing and other sanitising, the wearing of a mask when we were outside the house, showering and washing clothes after moving outside the house.
During the school year, we have struggled with the volume of classes and work online. We have all grappled with this ‘new normal’. In our community prayers, we always pray for frontline workers: doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, hospital staff, law enforcement, government, religious leaders as well as for the well-being of the community as a whole and for strength in this difficult time.
We have been deeply concerned about our loved ones at home, the wider Columban family, our benefactors, those on mission as well as our Columban mission partners in this time of uncertainty. Most especially, we have prayed for the poor who have suffered heavily due to the loss of livelihoods in the lockdown.
With people confined to their homes during this time of crisis, many have found a way to channel their energy including discovering the joys of gardening and planting which eases tension and stress. In the seminary, we have already begun to harvest tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, mustard, okra/ladies’ finger, eggplant and lettuce.
I’ve focused on helping the plants to grow healthily by providing a finished compost from the leaves of our trees and by making an enzyme solutions as a natural pesticide for these plants and vegetables. This kind of activity helps me to keep physically and mentally active while spiritually and emotionally attuned.
As I continue to cope with the crisis, let us not forget that the greatest gift that God gave us is life itself. May we also remember in our prayers our brothers and sisters who are behind bars. They have their own struggle in this time.
Being confined to home during the pandemic has given us all a sense of the restrictions that they daily live with in prison. Let our hearts cling to God and pray for us your Columban seminarians!
Filipino Jerry Lohera is a Columban seminarian studying at the International Formation House in Manila. He joined the Columban formation programme in 2012 and undertook his two-year First Mission Assignment (FMA) in Pakistan.
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