Fr Sirju: We must break the chain of fear

Fr Martin Sirju during mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate
Conception, Port of Spain. PHOTO BY ANGELO MARCELLE -
Fr Martin Sirju during mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Port of Spain. PHOTO BY ANGELO MARCELLE -

Despite the negative effects of covid19, social media is overflowing with posts from people using this quiet time in an enriching way. There are posts about people now being able to spend more time with family, in the garden, building furniture and reconnecting to things they enjoy doing most. These activities seem more possible now that the typical day-to-day obligations of modern living have been slowed.

Father Martin Sirju of The Archdiocese of Port of Spain said he has had to interact with new technology in a new way. He said, however, it is important, going forward, that while people use the internet to bridge distances, people should never forget the importance and powerful positive impact of physical gatherings.

How are you feeling about the covid19 pandemic?

I think like most people I started feeling fearful. Especially hearing how easily transmittable the virus is and considering how long it spends on surfaces, for example. I was also saddened by the fact that people were dying, and many were separated from their families. When it started spreading it was described as being most threatening to the elderly, which was both saddening and concerning. I was concerned by how our hospitals would handle what may have come. But the fear faded as I put things into perspective. I saw the broader picture of how the changes made people realise the impact our actions have on each other and the environment.

But what about the

uncertainty of the times?

During this time of the covid19 recovery, we were faced by attention being drawn to the killing of innocent people through the death of George Floyd. People seem to be in so much fear of all that has been happening. They seem to be wondering what else may come around the corner. But we cannot continue living in fear. Especially as Christians, people of faith. When Jesus rose from the dead he said, “Peace be with you, take courage – do not be afraid.” So I have already adjusted as best as I could to the fact that the virus and all that has been happening in the world might endure into next year and also that there might be other things popping up because of how we have been treating the environment and each other.

Have you experienced a major change in your daily routine?

I have almost as much work. My routine has not changed much, but how I go about doing my work has changed. It is now in-house so I don’t go out much with the car. Sometimes I may go out to the bakery or pharmacy, or to visit the sick or conduct funeral services.

Working in-house has forced me to learn the new technology like live streaming. One of the things we are now getting organised is having my first Zoom meeting with some young people on the parish level.

I am reminded, we never really know everything and can probably never learn everything. From the feedback I have been receiving I realise talking to the congregation in person is different from speaking with them online.

We have to now be trained like journalists to speak to cameras and still connect with people profoundly.

This morning I had a meeting with several leaders and they were all singing the same song. While we miss human interaction with the people of the church, we know we are reaching a wider group of people through digital media. It has its benefits.

We have also been sending out voicenotes to share with people.

Before covid19 I usually used my phone for calls, WhatsApp and sometimes, videos – but never for video communication.

Will digital outreach be the future of the church?

Even though digital media has been helpful, it still does not satisfy in the same way human interaction does. I know some people think the church of the future is a virtual church, and I agree to some extent. But I also disagree with it significantly because the fundamental metaphor for the church is the body of Christ. When St Paul said that he was referring to the physical body being used to explore church. I think bodies are important. I don’t want to become an expert in the virtual world to an extent where I am satisfied not having human interaction.

People gathering is very powerful and important. We must go out and meet people. Doing it virtually is good under certain circumstances – such as a pandemic, but we cannot forget the importance of human bodies being in the same place.

The Bible said the word became flesh – it did not say the word became a virtual reality.

We must also consider people who do not have access to technology – they are otherwise at a risk of being left out altogether. A technological focus does not create room for people outside a certain class, which feeds into inequity.

We have a first communion class with 19 children. When the teacher interviewed the children, many of whom were from east Port of Spain, only one family had the technology required – meaning 18 would not be able to participate. We have to think of these people more and ensure they are not excluded.

We have been exploring ways to get the information to these families through physical gathering in small groups.

Is there anything you feel inspired to share with anyone reading this article?

Times like these, with all that has been happening in the world, can either bring out the best in us or the worst in us. And the best will come through us using the silence to become more contemplative, more peaceful, to meditate – to find the value of silence. And to step back from the noise as our culture wills.

The silence can be healing and revealing. Silence can help us discover the transcendental other in the cave of the heart.

I hope we will begin to value ourselves and others more. We have suddenly started talking about essential workers as if they did not always exist. They were always there and always essential, especially the ones who are, unfortunately, least paid.

I hope we can all connect to our common humanity and with the planet. We have to take radical action to partner with the environment so humans and nature can breathe better.

This is for the sake of preserving the whole on the planet.

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"Fr Sirju: We must break the chain of fear"

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