On 15/16th March, the government of the Republic of Kenyan made an official announcement ordering the closure of all the schools in Kenya as a measure of combating the COVID-19. A few days later the formation staff called a meeting announcing in-house measures aimed at dealing with the pandemic. These included: suspension of all common community activities except for one to one sharing, social distancing, frequent hand washing , and students were not allowed to leave the formation centre except those particular students who were chosen to go for weekly shopping with the help of the formators. The suspension of all community activities was in adherence to the guidelines from the government. The suspension was to last for two weeks after which the community would evaluate the suspension. After two weeks of adhering to the strict rules outlined by the government, we evaluated our situation.
The pandemic has affected the entire world as well as our formation program. All the pillars of the formation program are affected in all dimensions. In what follows I will highlight the four pillars of formation affected by the regulations: personal, academic, pastoral, and spiritual formation.
The pandemic has deeply affected our personal formation. Firstly, the personal growth of student is affected in that students are struggling to adapt to the new reality of not eating together as house members, no community socials, no weekly mixed supper on Thursdays, no community sports and, no community or house dynamics. Secondly, the different responsibilities, which could enhance the personal growth of students, are also suspended such as weekly shopping by different students within the respective homes.
However, despite the suspension of all these activities, which could enhance the personal growth of students, students are invited to make a deeper introspection especially at this time when the environment is not noisy and so foster ongoing personal growth despite the chaos caused by the pandemic. Furthermore, students are called upon to maintain their monthly one to one sessions with their personal formator since it is of capital importance. The first two weeks of staying at home were not easy for the students. Feelings of loneliness, stress, and anxiety were in evidence in the community. We were struggling to adjust to the new reality. It was a time of transition but after some weeks now, we are getting used to this reality.
Once the government made the official communication about the closure of schools, forbidding public gatherings, and introducing social distancing, and the restriction of movement into some facilities like hospital and prisons, all pastoral activities during weekends had to be suspended. In the formation program, weekends are earmarked for pastoral work. All the students in the formation house normally go for pastoral work in different areas like prisons, hospitals, schools, parishes, and a rehabilitation center. The purpose of the pastoral work is to integrate the theology students study in Tangaza College and to expose students to the reality of the life of the people. It is always an enriching and learning experience for students. Besides, every month students do share their experiences from the different pastoral placements in their different formation pastoral groups with their fellow students. All this had to be suspended because of COVID-19.
The spiritual formation, which aims at deepening students’ relationship with God, was also affected. Areas such as: daily Mass, community prayers, community adoration, monthly recollections, Small Christian Community Masses, liturgy groups, and monthly spiritual direction. Initially, daily Mass was suspended for two weeks. After two weeks without Mass, we had another community meeting during which social distancing was duly observed. We evaluated the weeks without Mass, and the following option was adopted: there are nine homes in the formation center and the homes were split into three groups. The chapel was rearranged in order to ensure that social distancing was maintained and each member of the community chose a permanent seat in the chapel. This meant that each of the group would have two days of Mass per week. This has been the format in the community for the last couple of weeks. We hope that in the weeks ahead we will continue to explore other possibilities. However, other spiritual activities within the formation program like community prayers, community adoration, monthly recollections, and monthly adoration are still suspended for the time being. The students are encouraged to keep up with their personal prayer. For those days, when we were not able to attend Mass, we watch a celebration on social media.
The 20th of March is the day that the government ordered the closure of all schools as a measure of reducing the spread of COVID-19. Since, that day students have been confined to the formation center without going to Tangaza College and we have been having online lectures through the different e-learning platforms. It has been a welcome opportunity for students to learn how to use the different platforms as means of learning. It was a challenge at the beginning to learn how to use the different platforms but as of now, many students are used to it. We thank the formation staff for ensuring that we have a good internet connection for our studies. As of now, students from Theology one to Theology three will only do their end of semester exams when school resumes physically according to a communication from the Tangaza administration. The students in their final year like those in Theology four are doing their end of semester exams and written comprehensive in their respective religious communities under the supervision of one of the lecturers from Tangaza. Their oral and comprehensive exam will be done on the social media platform (Zoom classroom).
In a special way, we thank God for the good health He has granted us since the pandemic started. We continue to pray for all our students around the world, our members who are in different parts of the world, as well as families who are affected and medical personnel that our loving God may enlighten and grant us the strength and the grace we need at this challenging moment in human history.
As we continue to live in this uncertain situation, we pray and trust in God that none of us will contract this virus and God will see us through during this challenging moment in our lives. I will like to end this sharing with a proverb which says that the end of the road is not the end of the journey (perseverance), the suspension of many of our community activities is not the end of our vocation discernment but rather it’s a time to look for another means by which we continue with our vocation discernment.
Nobert Yarshikeh (Cameroon. Student of Theology)