Virginia Saldanha, one of our Strategy Team members, the former executive secretary of the Office of Laity of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, and a freelance writer and advocate for women's issues based in Mumbai, India has raised this question. Is the Church changing with COVID-19.
Perhaps this time of empty church buildings symbolically exposes the reality of our lived faith and should move us to examine whether our "Church going" leads us to a more authentic lived experience of faith.
Pope Francis preaching to an empty gathering in St. Peter's Square is symbolic of the empty churches all over the world
At Easter, we find the "empty tomb" but this year we also had empty churches, yet the faith of the People of God is alive and vibrant in online communities of families.
The online liturgies have breathed new life into the domestic Church. What a blessing it has been that we have a lived experience of the Paschal Mystery during this COVID-19 lockdown.
Parishes and individuals are reaching out to the poor and migrant workers, stranded with no work, no food and no shelter in big cities. People are donating funds and food and volunteering at distribution centres.
Religious institutions have offered to house those stranded, while hospitals and health centers are joining hands with government agencies to help contain the spread of the infection.
While death seems to be lurking all around, the hope provided by love and care is sustaining life.
Amid the hopelessness of death by a virus infection, for which we are yet to find a medical cure, we hear of stories of joy. A mother who was COVID-19 positive and on a respirator recovered and went home carrying her newborn baby. Young people are selflessly giving their time, risking their lives to work as volunteers.
A Hindu volunteer found a 23-year-old woman looking lost in a transit camp full of men. He saw the risk of leaving her there, so he contacted his non-governmental group, and a Catholic lady immediately referred him to a hostel run by Catholic nuns who willingly took her in. The young woman cried tears of joy.
While we were forced to have a fairly scaled-down celebration of Easter in terms of a festive meal and goodies, we got to live the Gospel imperative of love for our neighbor.
Even if people are not out there volunteering in public places, they are taking care of each other. There is so much positive energy being generated because we have compulsorily found value in Jesus' command to love one another.
The networks that have been formed across boundaries of faith to help the poor are impressive and heart-warming. God's reign of peace and love is alive and active among all peoples. To me, this is true evangelization. It's living the Easter message of hope that says "because He lives, we are alive."
Catholic activists have drawn in volunteers to work with inter-religious groups to get involved in some way or the other. Some in big ways, and some in small ways, like those who call up senior citizens to check if they are doing fine. Networks are formed to connect the needy with resources.
Another disturbing fallout of the lockdown is the increase in domestic violence. Women's groups are reaching out to victims of domestic violence to give a listening ear and offer suggestions for handling the situation in the interim period of the lockdown.
On another level, praying and worship communities have become global. They delve deep into the meaning of the Paschal Mystery and discover riches that ignite their faith and yearning for a renewed Church, which is the People of God working together in mission as equal disciples.
Many among these are women who can no longer tolerate being treated as second class in the Church.
The internet has provided access to connect with women and supportive men worldwide to create liturgies that are life-giving and meaningful. I participated in a global Easter liturgy together with 215 women. It was invigorating to celebrate and pray with women and men across the globe in a faith community.
Will a post-pandemic Church be the same?
"Yes" would be the answer for many who choose to remain with the rituals and "do as you are told without thinking" Church.
But for a significant number of Catholics, things will change. They will probably stay with that which gives deeper meaning to what it means to be a Catholic with a living faith. No, they are not leaving the Church, but they will remain with groups that nourish their Catholic faith so that they can make the Reign of God, inaugurated by Jesus, a reality on earth.
Like every other institution in the world, whether economic, political or social, the pandemic has taught us many lessons. It has shown up gaps - nay, even gaping holes - in the way we work, operate and interact with each other, with the environment and even with God.
If we do not stop to reflect on the lessons learned and effect changes, allowing it to remain business as usual, the world will continue to hurtle towards another crisis in a much shorter time.
There is still time to pause, listen and change to bring New Life to our world.
We invite you to share your experiences
The Spirit has not been covert in how she is waking us all up through this pandemic. We look forward to your sharing your on personal experiences: on our CCRI Facebook page or join us on our CCRI Twitter account and share your own personal experiences:
1. How has this lock down affected your personal experience of living your faith?
2. Which liturgies challenge you to aspire to live your life in Christ authentically?
3. Has your experience of celebrating the Eucharist during Holy Week given you insights into living your life in the context of the Covid 19 pandemic? Has the experience affected your outlook on how you might want to continue celebrating the Eucharist?
If the experience has been good, how might we continue this form of being church and resist the temptation to revert back to a church that is failing us in so many ways? Let us not - out of habit - fall back into putting money in the collection basket of a church that is not listening to the signs of the times; that is unable to treat women with equal respect to men; that is unwilling to welcome the LGBT community as respected members of our community.
Your donations and contributions of ideas are most appreciated
Note: This article was originally printed in La Croix.