COVID Notes of the Year (14)

By: Monsignor Juan de Dios Hernández Ruíz, sj.

Ilustración: Ángel Alonso

We traveled through the ninth month of the year dealing with Covid-19. We would have wanted to live all this time in a capsule, in a hyperbaric chamber, in hibernation, and go outside only when it all happened. But so many things have happened in the global village in these seven months… And what is life without the experience of everyday life, of what happens and happens to us.

No matter how isolated we were, we couldn’t be without hearing the beating of the world, the multiple stories, from the origin and spread of the new coronavirus and the follow-up to the health crisis, to the social effects of an African-American suffocation by a cop in Minneapolis. Isn’t that quite one story?

On the island we have not been oblivious to the events outside, but also inside things have happened. And for everything there are criteria and positions that cause dissequents and shocks when intolerance emerges, the voices that scream louder because they want to be the only ones heard, the ones who believe themselves to be bearers of the truth.

Word New wanted to share the expressions of a group of diverse voices to offer to its readers as a sample of the personal and collective experiences that have been lived in this peculiar and amazing leap year, this twenty-twenty turned quarent(en)a.

We have asked these people to tell us about their experiences in these months, how their days have passed, how they have faced the challenges and what reading they make of what happened, what their ideas are about it.

Announcing Jesus Christ in the midst of a pandemic

By: Monsignor Juan de Dios Hernández Ruíz, sj. Bishop of the Diocese of Pinar del Río

There is a thought in popular wisdom that expresses, “If you want to see God laugh, show him your plans.” This has happened to many in recent months when life has taken on another rhythm because of a virus that appeared in a people of China and has invaded the entire planet.

A few months ago he had taken office as Bishop of the Diocese of Pinar del Río. I came with plans to carry out to continue the evangelizing work of my predecessors, but from the wealth that my person could offer. However, in March, as we were preparing to celebrate Crismal Mass, everything was paralyzed. Temples could no longer welcome Christian communities and priests were beginning to celebrate the Eucharist in private to prevent contagion. Along with the closure of schools and adjustments in workplaces, catechesis and advocacy projects, such as human and Christian training courses offered at different points in the diocese through caritas programs, ceased. The Bishopric was forced to close its doors and reorganize the working hours of those employees who, because of their work content, would continue to go to the center.

Con parte del equipo realizador del programa radial de la diócesis.
With part of the team that made the radio program of the diocese.

In the midst of this situation, making a stop in life and in front of the Lord, who always enlightens and accompanies us, I remembered the words with which I had addressed this new flock that as Pastor of Souls entrusted me: “What can I give you other than Jesus Christ, Lord of history! It is the best I can give you because it is the best I have, Jesus, the only and greatest wealth that the Church has, the most precious gift, the hidden pearl of his Kingdom, the beauty of God. Jesus, the only one enough.” (Homily of the Inauguration as Bishop of Pinar del Río).

This announcement had to be made differently than I had planned, but it was clear that I couldn’t stop announcing it. He began a stage of constant closeness with priests and religious through telephone and visits to their places of residence, especially those in distant communities with the greatest presence of cases.

Spanish and Italian priests resided in the diocese, who experienced pain for the sick among their relatives or community brothers. It was necessary to show them our accompaniment and help to facilitate communication with them.

There were also other difficult situations, such as the isolation of the Minimum Daughters of Mary Immaculate in the city of Pinareña, because one of the Sisters had arrived from Mexico and the whole community had to stay fourteen days without leaving her house.

Similarly were Fr. Roger Harleé and two seminarians, members of the community of Oblates of Mary Immaculate, residing in Los Palacios, who were taken to the INCLA center in this town, because one of the seminarians developed fever and sore throats. Thank God they all tested negative and were able to join their labors.

Another major challenge presented was to maintain the dining room of the Diocesan House, which provides lunch for elderly people in need. Providence has really assisted us and every day of service we have seen the miracle of multiplying breads and fishes. We put what we have and the Lord allows everyone to feed thee. Some caritas eaters had to stop, but others were able to continue to feed the hungry, despite the multiple difficulties in acquiring the essentials.

Once again another kind of hunger, that of the spirit, presented itself to us. The one that invades man and plunges him into hopelessness, fear and sadness. So is our people, in the midst of which we find ourselves. How can we proclaim Jesus in the midst of pain for the loss of loved ones, the inability to acquire what is necessary to live through the usual ways to do so? How can we proclaim It to Him when the faithful, in order to avoid contagion, cannot participate in Mass or in the activities of Christian communities?

Durante la toma de posesión de la diócesis pinareña.
During the inauguration of the Pinareña diocese.

It has become necessary to look for other ways. Priests and some committed lay people have created groups on WhatsApp to promote communication with those who have access to the internet, and who in turn share it with those who do not have it. Phone calls, emails and messages inviting prayer have been some of the channels to keep in touch. Social media has played a very important role.

As a gift from God, we had the opportunity to address the people through the radio program that was broadcast every week on the local stations, Radio Guamá and Radio Artemis. It was a space for evangelization that the people greatly appreciated, believed or not, because in the face of crisis, man seeks God even unconsciously.

Human beings need to know that they are not alone, much less when the days are gray and stormy. One of the many publications that saw the light in the midst of this pandemic has been the book Where is God in the midst of the coronavirus?, by the writer John Lennox. In one of his final reflections he states:

“Christianity affirms that man named Jesus Christ is God incarnate; in other words, the Creator became a human being. At the heart of the Christian message is the death of Jesus Christ on a cross on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Immediately, this question arises: If He is God incarnate, what was He doing on a cross? Well, among many other things, it means that God has not stayed away from human pain and suffering, but that He himself experienced it.

“Therefore, a Christian is not someone who has solved the problem of pain, suffering and coronavirus, but a person who has decided to love and trust in a God who has also suffered it.

“However, that’s only half the story. If death on the cross had been the last thing Jesus did, we would never have heard of Him, but that was not the end. The message that caused fuss in Jerusalem on that first Passover—the message that captivated the world of the first century—was that Jesus had overcome death: that he had risen and that he would be the supreme judge of mankind.” That Love replaced death and sin. In that love, it is not perfection that He seeks in us, but authenticity, no more striving to be perfect but to be authentic.

For in love you are more important than the self; and if love is true, I don’t put myself on a pedestal.

Yes, and on the last day, when the afternoon of life opens on days without sunset, the Lord will only ask us again, as He asked Peter, Do you love me? And even though we have betrayed him a thousand times, he will ask us a thousand times: Do you love me? And we must do nothing but repeat another thousand times: Yes, I love you.

We still live through difficult times because of the regrowthe of the pandemic. Many of our communities have been forced to return to the first few months of isolation for contagion. In the midst of all our offering is the same as it was more than 2000 years ago when Peter and John went up to the temple at prayer time: “I have no silver or gold, but I give you what I have.” In the name of Jesus Christ Nazarene, Cuba, get up and walk!

“The coronavirus and all the plagues that have devastated the world will cease to exist; but the crown of righteousness that will be given to those who love the Lord Jesus will never perish or fade.

“Where do we find peace in the midst of a pandemic? Only in Jesus. The question for all of us is this: are we going to trust Him?” (cf. Where is God in the midst of the coronavirus?).

May our Mother the Virgin of Charity always accompany us and put Jesus in our hearts. So be it.

Monseñor Juan de Dios Hernández Ruíz, sj. (Holguín, 1946)
Monsignor Juan de Dios Hernández Ruíz, sj. (Holguin, 1946)

Monsignor Juan de Dios Hernández Ruíz, sj. (Holguin, 1946). He was ordained a priest in 1976. He holds a degree in Spiritual Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. He was appointed titular bishop of Passo Corese and assistant of San Cristobal of Havana in December 2005. Since February 2006 he has been Secretary of the Cuban Episcopal Conference. In June 2019, Pope Francis appointed him Bishop of the Diocese of Pinar del Río.



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