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COVID-19 “destabilizes, pushes us to dig deeper, in faith”: Jesuit Archbishop in Algeria

Archbishop Paul Desfarges of Algiers, Algeria.

A Jesuit Archbishop shepherding the people of God in Algeria’s Archdiocese of Algiers has, in a recent interview with ACI Africa, shared about the impact of COVID-19 in his experience, saying the pandemic has triggered moments of destabilization and a deeper spiritual reflection that reveals “a certain letting go in relationships” including that with God.

“The uncertainty of the situation, which is prolonged, destabilizes and pushes us to dig deeper, in the life of faith, but also in the life of relationships, even at a distance, by perceiving better what is most solid, most tangible in these uncertain moments. As a result, we experience a certain letting go in relationships and therefore in our relationship with God and in prayer,” Archbishop Paul Desfarges told ACI Africa.

The disease, which has brought an “inner feeling of a common belonging to the same fragile and solidary humanity” has also revealed to all humanity “what brings us together and makes us brothers and sisters,” Archbishop Desfarges said during the Saturday, July 18 interview.

“We must, therefore, continue communion in prayer, solidarity in caring for those who are most fragile and in greatest need. Continue to serve and to love,” the French-born Archbishop further said. 

Algeria, the largest country in Africa, has recorded at least 23,691 cases of COVID-19 including 1,087 fatalities and 16,400 recoveries. 

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As part of the efforts to prevent the spread of the disease, the Algerian government closed places of worship and suspended religious gatherings in the country in March.  

In the July 18 interview, Archbishop Desfarges expressed his appreciation for the digital media that have been engaged to bring the word of God to the faithful amid COVID-19 restrictions.

“The means of communication, social networks, have gradually revealed all their usefulness and fertility. We have been able to successfully organize online training days, retreats with online accompaniment,” the members of the Society of Jesus told ACI Africa.

The 76-year-old Archbishop added referencing how Church leaders have engaged the digital media, “Chaplains can reach students on Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and worship times using Zoom. Catechesis continued in the families to prepare for First Communion.”

“We have not seen the development of withdrawal, on the contrary. It seems to me that thanks to the telephone, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom or others, real attention to others, to the absent, to the elderly has developed,” the Archbishop further said in recollection and continued, “It is not only about the links in the Christian community, but also about all our relationships with our neighbors and friends in Algerian society.”

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Though physical contact is lacking in the places of worship, “the experience of spiritual communion (or longing) increased spiritual thirst,” Archbishop Desfarges said.  

“But I give thanks for the pastoral creativity that has allowed and still allows us to live this time of closure of places of worship not as a time of isolation, but a time to experience a real closeness to the Church. The desire to come together to celebrate together is great. There is a real lack of being together that is commensurate with our sense of ecclesial belonging, which has rather grown,” he further said. 

He recognized the life of prayer at the family and community level saying, “Many, yes many, pray alone, in community, in family, in communion with the universal Church.”