By Fr. Salvador González, OMI
Fr. González ministers at King’s House Retreat and Renewal Center in Belleville, IL
Oblate Fr. Fernando Velazquez, OMI, is an Oblate from the US Province studying in Rome on his doctoral degree in Missiology. Together with the whole community of the General House in Rome, Fr. Fernando is experiencing first-hand the consequences of the Corvid-19 virus. Fr. Fernando and I have been friends since 1994. I got to know him when I was in the pre-novitiate program in Tijuana, and Fernando was a young man who would visit the house of formation as part of the affiliate group we had in Mexicali, B.C. Upon hearing of the drastic measures put in place by the Italian government that included home confinement, I called Fr. Fernando on Wednesday March 11, 2020, to see how he was doing and I want to share some of our conversation with you all.
The Corvid-19 virus has quickly changed the way we live here in the United States but the measures are not yet as stringent as they are in Italy. In the city of Rome and all of Italy, residents are confined to their homes. Residents are only allowed to leave to get food from grocery stores or medicine from pharmacies. Checkpoints are placed throughout the city to make sure residents follow the instructions. Police are present to verify that people on the street are only visiting authorized places. Fr. Fernando tells me that the closest police check point for their neighborhood is at the famous small chapel of the Madonna del Riposo, which is well known to any visitor to the General House.
Fr. Fernando spoke to me of the mal treatment of Asian visitors to the city, of people not being allowed to board buses or metro trains, and of people being pushed out of a communion line at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Anyone wearing a mask is assumed to have the virus. “If you are a foreigner and you are wearing a mask to protect yourself, you are instantly targeted as a threat,” said Fr. Fernando. He also told me about a young man wearing a mask who did not speak Italian and all he knew was that people were pushing him out of line preventing him from receiving communion. Fr. Fernando attempted to help, “I stood in front of the young man to sort-of shield him so that he could make it up to the communion line.”
The life of the community in the General House has also been affected. The community is taking precautionary measures to stay safe. “We are now giving each other more space at the dinner table, community room, and chapel. We are doing more disinfecting of the common areas and living spaces for each oblate,” said Fr. Fernando. “There are no Oblates sick with the virus, and all actions are being taken to prevent infections from happening…at first people thought it was a joke and a passing thing, we made fun of the name [Corona Virus]. The mood changed rapidly from taking it lightly to one of great concern when the Mass and classes started being canceled, and when we were asked to stay inside the house.”
Fr. Fernando concluded by saying, “We are staying positive, we are people of faith. We get together to pray, and we pray not only for ourselves but for those who are yet to face this challenging reality.” Those “others who are still to face this reality,” is us. “We, in turn, continue to pray for all those affected, and we ask our Holy Founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod, who knew first-hand the consequences of epidemics, as a young priest and as bishop to intercede for all the Mazenodian family.”