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African Laity Encouraged to “be in touch with” Clergy, Religious amid COVID-19 Challenges

A poster announcing the July 28 webinar organized by by the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA). Credit: AMECEA

The need for the Laity in Africa to connect with members of the Clergy and women and men Religious at a time when people across the globe are struggling with COVID-19 challenges has been emphasized at a virtual conference organized by the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA).

In the Wednesday, July 28 webinar organized under the theme, “Psychosocial Wellness and Psychospiritual Counseling for Clergy in the midst of COVID Crisis,” a panelist explained how the difference in family dynamics between the Laity and members of the Clergy justifies his appeal to the lay faithful.

“The laity may need to understand that they are living in families while the Religious have their family members and spiritual families so the task is more difficult than theirs,” Fr. Marcellin Ouedraogo said, highlighting the need for the Laity in Africa to reach out to members of the Clergy and women and men Religious.

The difference in the family dynamics, Fr. Ouedraogo explained, “means that the lay people can pay more attention to the Religious people because in this situation, the Religious can easily go into isolation, depression or even suicidal attempts or thoughts because of their state of life.” 

In his presentation during the July 28 virtual session, the Burkinabe Catholic Priest who is currently studying at the Nairobi-based Marist International University College further said, “We used to care for the lay people but coronavirus came and made us understand that the Clergy, the Religious people need caring, closeness to overcome their stresses.” 

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“Send them (Clergy and Religious) messages and be in touch with them,”, Fr. Ouedraogo, a psycho-spiritual counsellor appealed, addressing himself to the Laity in Africa.

Members of the Clergy and women and men Religious have responsibilities that go beyond their immediate families to that of the people of God under their pastoral care and even beyond, the Burkinabe Priest said during the AMECEA virtual session July 28.

He encouraged the use of social media forums in such engagement that shows a caring spirit, adding, “This care is good for our psychological wellbeing.”

"Do not be afraid of technology; it is inevitable in our world today. Take hold of it; use it to accomplish your goals during the lockdown," Fr. Ouedraogo said, adding, "Stay connected with colleagues, family, friends, send emails, chat, FaceTime. Staying at home is not an excuse to abandon anyone. Take advantage of technological devices."

“COVID-19 has affected everyone and members of the Laity need to understand that the Religious have also been affected. We are still human beings,” Fr. Ouedraogo said.

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He continued, “The coronavirus does not decide if this is a Priest, a Bishop or a Sister. It attacks anyone. It has shown us that we are all human beings. Lay people can be aware and understand that we are all human beings in all the components of our lives.” 

"There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. One can be alone and not lonely and one can be not alone but lonely. Loneliness is an unpleasant feeling of isolation," he explained, and cautioned against "loneliness and boredom." 

The psycho-spiritual counsellor further encouraged the seeking of psychological help amid symptoms of depression and other unusual mannerisms such as "unnecessarily getting angry or over anxious or having panic attacks or when your relationship with your colleagues is becoming bad."

"COVID will pass, fear not,” Fr. Ouedraogo said, and added, “Fear is a sign of helplessness; fear leads to disobedience and the worship of evil; fear is an enemy. Be strong in faith."

He continued, "COVID is nothing to fear if you are safe. Fear can cause irritability, tiredness, anxiety and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Say to yourself over and over again 'fear not or I am not afraid.'"

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