While the pastoral year was still in full swing, catechetical programs in parishes across the diocese of Montreal came to an abrupt end with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. This did not, however, keep parish catechetical leader Delfor Rojas-Benavente from rolling up his sleeves and resorting to some creativity to reinvent the remaining scheduled catechetical meetings for the children of his parish. His approach is one example of the number of parish initiatives that have been set up within the diocese during this time of upheaval.
Delfor Rojas-Benavente has been serving as a parish catechetical leader since 2004 for the pastoral unit of Ste-Colette and Saint-Camille in Montreal North. He and his team were at the fourth catechetical meeting of the winter session when the government and diocesan public health measures were first announced: "All of a sudden, I asked myself the question: 'What will we do? How will we do it?’ Because for me, one of the main reasons for continuing to do things without yet knowing exactly what, was to honour [our commitment to] the parents and children," he explains. As a result, giving up on the three remaining meetings was not an option for Rojas-Benavente. He then personally got in touch with each parent to see if there was a possibility of using online technology, after which he consulted the catechetical team, who agreed to move forward.
From that point on, the work entailed was colossal: "There was a kind of urgency, with recommendations changing from day to day. I was working under a stressful situation, that's the truth." He prepared an equivalent program of the scheduled gatherings for the hundred or so children, who comprise four age groups: "Little by little, we sent this to the parents, so they could be the ones taking the lead in working with their children on catechesis [and doing the activities]. The catechists remained available to answer questions”.
The approach has proven to be successful: "It was well-received and the response from some parents who were very interested surprises me in a positive way. They even asked us to continue providing other activities that are practical enough for their children during the summer (laughs). I'm going to see if there's a possibility of offering this them".
Learning from COVID-19, and the Gospel?
It seems Rojas-Benavente has helped parish life continue at some level with his innovative approach. However, COVID-19 has changed something very particular for him: "We are living a unique situation in our history and this has allowed me to make very practical links between the program activities and the stories in Scripture that we use for our meetings. I even created an activity that includes the COVID-19 crisis in relation to the presence of Jesus, proposing to parents and children to reconsider the problems of this pandemic, but with the help of the Gospels. I think that this also serves as a learning process that is beneficial and will be beneficial for a long time to come." In this way, Rojas-Benavente presents what he calls "the actualization of the Gospels": "Biblical readings such as the Good Samaritan, the Calming of the Storm, the Great Commission from Jesus to his disciples after Pentecost, [...] it is up to each one of us to try [ to apply these practically] in our daily lives."
Weaving tighter connections
If there is one thing that Rojas-Benavente has seen transformed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, it is relationships: "I think we've strengthened the bonds between the catechists and the parents a little more. It's really important to note that this new relationship had developed out of a crisis, and given the majority response of the parents, I think it's a positive thing. Hopefully, we can continue to keep these connections fairly tight."