There are currently 23,952 confirmed cases across Austria (as of August 19, 2020). 729 people died of COVID-19. 20.958 people were healed. A total of 1.048.216 tests have been made in Austria so far.
The exit restrictions have been gradually eased since the beginning of May. In the months before, homework was the main focus and protective masks were required in all public places. Schools and kindergartens were closed and the children were educated on the Internet. The schools reopened in June but under strict safety precautions and distance regulations.
Currently, protective masks have to be worn in some places. Travel warnings for certain countries like Spain or Croatia have now been issued (as of August 19).
Most importantly, all piarists are healthy and none of the communities has had COVID-19. Only our monthly come together was hindered for over three months. In General, the lives of our communities were impacted positively. During this period, our community life activities like prayer, masses, meals, recreation, and sport were more intensified. Furthermore, the Piarists in Horn-Krems community invested their energy in the garden. And the outcome is very positive. They have beautified the Horn community environment with the Piarist logo and flowers. They have produced Piarist honey and Syrups and have shared with all the communities.
According to the current state of knowledge, none of our educators and their immediate family has had corona.
Since May 15th it is possible to attend church services under certain restrictions. Before that, some church services in Maria Treu and St. Thekla were celebrated with people over the Internet. People were able to celebrate the service live with the Piarists on the Internet. Again and again, there were impulses from the Piarists for the people in social media. P. Jean de Dieu Tagne SP invited people to read different chapters from the Bible. He also sent the people questions that they could answer for themselves in the end.
During the months of the exit restrictions, the schools in Maria Treu and St. Thekla were closed. In the beginning, the teachers contacted the students via email. Tasks were sent via email. Corrected schoolwork could be picked up at the school. After a period of getting used to it, communication was also possible via the Internet platform Skype.
Statement from the Piarist elementary school Maria Treu during the Corona period:
“The transition from traditional teaching to online learning was initially a major challenge for children, parents, and teachers. The equipment, the local conditions, and the know-how were put to the test. But thanks to the good cooperation between the teachers and parents, we were able to get involved”.
The kindergarten in Maria Treu was open. However, only children whose parents could not do home offices, were cared for.
Main concerns we are facing
Facing this challenging reality, I have two main concerns: the faith in God and Educating and evangelizing through Social media.
Faith in God: in the first three months of the first phase of the Coronavirus here in Austria, March 15 to June 15, churches were closed, masses were forbidden, no gathering was authorized. Nevertheless, the doors of our churches remained opened during the day for personal prayers and meditations. I used to be in the church for private meditation from 4 pm to 7 pm during some days each week. I could notice during these hours that many people were visiting the church one after another. Many kneeled and prayed. Some will just stand and say Jesus thank You then went out. At the end of the day, one could notice more than 300 to 400 people visiting the church individually to pray. Every Thursday evening, instructed by my parish priest, in the spirit of the continuous pastoral accompaniment of our Christians, I used to give the body of Christ, (from the table) to those who expressed the desire to receive Christ in Holy Communion. Most of the time, I used to make myself available to talk with some Christian who needed a priest to listen to them (respecting the socials distance and wearing a mask). Many used to come to St. Thekla because most of the Priest (in our parish community) were said to belong to Corona-risk-group and were not allowed to be in contact with any Christian.
In the face of these realities, I was personally touched by the deep faith of our Christians. I saw people who are in search of God and who counted on God as their only helper. I encountered persons with deep faith and growth in spiritual maturity. And this also helps me to strengthen my faith in God.
From the 15th June until now, churches have been reopened, and masses are celebrated on weekdays and Sundays. Even though the mass attendance has dropped a bit, due to the new COVID-19 social distance conditions in the church, most of our Christians who attend masses are proven to be deeply rooted in Faith. And the only thing they need from me as a priest during this hard and trembling moments is to be a piarist. To be a priest. To accompany them in their faith.
It’s a call to conversion and deeper the engagement in the mission of Christ, in the mission of the church, in the mission of Calasanz, in the Piarist Mission.
May God grant us the grace to go through.
Educating and Evangelising through social media: a necessity for our mission.
As Piarist, I always find joy and happiness being with children and youth. Teaching them something new and learning something from them. And that has been so ever since I arrived in Austria. In my community in St. Thekla, taking part in the children and youths activities in the “Jugendheim” and Hort groups were my best moments. Suddenly, at one moment, everything stops. Every child and youth went away. That was Corona. We were then alone. The school campus and “Jugendheim” became empty. Very quiet. No noise. I supported it for one, two, three days. And later, I couldn’t support it anymore. I became bored. I felt in me that the source of my joy and happiness has been taken away.
At this point, I went deep into myself and asked the following question:
- Of what importance will be my life, and my vocation without children and youth?
- Is it possible to exercise our Charism without having children and youth physically present?
- Of what importance will be the piarist mission in the church and the society without education?
I pondered over these questions during weeks. Then suddenly came the reality of Classes and masses over social media. Everything was then arranged. I was celebrating masses every Sunday at 8 am online and many of our Christians were participating. Furthermore the “Jungschar” in St. Thekla decided to organize a Camping with the children over social media. And it went just very well. From my room I was again seeing, talking, teaching, learning, and playing with the children. Then came finally Zoom. We were able to connect to all the pupils of our school through online video classes. Yes, the experience wasn’t the same. But it was something quite different and interesting. I was again very happy. I found the answer to all my worries.
Education through social media is not only something interesting but it’s a necessity in our today’s world. And as a piarist, I should invest more in this domain. May God grant us the grace to go through.
Fr. Gerald Funwie Azongwa Sch. P.