Fr Gerry O’Reilly: Lockdown in Grahamstown
By Fr Gerry O’Reilly OFM – Lockdown is a new experience for all of us. Three weeks before it officially started, we emptied the holy water fonts, and everyone who came to church had their hands sprayed with sanitiser.
In our church of St Patrick’s in Makanda (Grahamstown), we had a doctor speak before Masses to tell us what we should and should not do.
During the first week a woman said to me: “That’s all nonsense!” Last week she said on the phone: “If there is a funeral, I won’t be there.” She is now wearing protective gloves and a facemask. Reality has caught up with her.
Life has changed. People go in big droves to the banks, the post office and the supermarkets to get money and food on pension and children’s grant days.
We see on TV that it is the same all over the country. It is difficult for people to keep the two-metre social distance from each other.
A person who normally comes to Mass asked me: “I want to go to Mass. When are you opening the church? There are more people in the banks and the supermarkets than could fit into the church.”
I replied: “We are waiting for President Cyril Ramaphosa to give us the prudent answer.” But even when that arrives, some people won’t come.
It is amazing how many priests have learned to use Facebook, WhatsApp and livestreaming in a short time. Even old fellows like myself are taking it up!
The rules for funerals—50 people at a maximum—are being reasonably observed.
But some people failed maths at school and sometimes make mistakes in counting!
Strangely, I had a funeral every Saturday for the seven weeks before lockdown. Since then nobody has died in the parish.
Rhodes University is closed, but a number of the professors in the science department have been busy making sanitisers.
Many others with sewing machines are making facemasks. They sell them and earn the cost of their dinner and baby nappies.
Towards the end of the third week of looking at each other, Fr Lucas Bambezela OFM and I, with the provincial’s blessing, decided to look at the Lord!
We went on retreat, in the house where we live, the following week. We had morning prayer and meditation from 9:30. Then we met for an hour and read and discussed some of St Francis’ writings. We had Mass at noon and faith-sharing after reading the Gospel.
In the afternoon we met again and spent an hour reading and discussing Fr Larry Kaufmann’s new book Become Love: Gradual Growth and Transformation from John [the Evangelist] to [Pope] Francis. We found this so interesting that we are still doing it each evening.
Then we finished off with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, evening prayer and meditation.
It was a good experience. We had no travelling to do, and were not exhausted at the end of the week while facing Sunday Masses.
When will it all end? That is the million-dollar question.
Listening to the opinions on the TV and radio, it seems only God knows. The penny is dropping: “God is in charge.”
So, with President Ramaphosa, we say: “God bless South Africa!”