Donald Fajemisin: Drive-in Mass

Last March, when I watched Father Stephen Tilley of Draper's St. John the Baptist Church parked and waited to offer his flocks the sacrament of reconciliation, I was incredulously amused. Little did I know that a drive-through-style mass would be coming to a temple near me. Last week, I attended my first drive-in mass organized by Father Aruldhas Lucas of the Resurrection parish in Fort St. John.

The following piece is written in response to my friends' indignation about the mass. Though I can understand their perplexity concerning the closure of places of worship, especially when unruly places such as bars are allowed to operate. However, it is important to note that the Church is not being singled out and that there is no war on our religious freedom or any seismic shift in our way of life.

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The measures enacted are public health safety prescriptions designed to keep us unharmed. Other religions have been equally impacted and governments all over the world have taken similar measures.

For examples, with a growing concern that the virus may be difficult to control during the travels and gatherings around Ramadan, many Islamic countries have had to cancel or scale down celebrations of Ramadan. The Hindu festivals such as Navaratri, Ram Navami, Vaisakhi were celebrated at home by Hindus all around the world due to Covid-19. Buddhists in Singapore and around the world have had to celebrate Vesak Day virtually for the first time in the history of one of the oldest religions in the world.

The Catholic Church's position can be best expressed by His Grace, the Most Reverend John Michael Miller, the Archbishop of Vancouver. Although he described the decision to suspend in-building mass attendance as puzzling, he highlighted the need to pray for the situation to change so that mass with the congregation can return, saying “we all want to protect the health of British Columbians.”

This underlines the complementary relationship between the church and science as aptly expressed by the retired molecular geneticist and Nobel laureate Werner Arber who claims that both natural sciences and theology are in tandem search for the truth. Despite the tumultuous history between science and the Church spanning from the time of Galileo to present day, the Church has been a patron of sciences, prolific in the foundation and funding of educational institutions and hospitals. Many of history's greatest scientists have been people of faiths, other religions included.

As a matter of fact, the evolution of hospitals and the nursing tradition developed during the early years of Christianity, when the benevolent outreach of the church included caring for the orphans, sicks, and widows, and the hungry and poor. Although the Bible tells us that faith is above reason, we must never forget that there is no discrepancy between faith and reason. The good Lord who reveals his mysteries to us and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on our minds.

As a politically conscious and religious person, I am gladdened by the deference exhibited by the Church hierarchy in B.C. Unlike our Southern neighbours, who had to drag their governments to the law courts and forcing the justices to make dangerously ideological and unscientific decisions, the churches in Canada have understood and respected (even if diplomatically) the separation of church and state.

Personally, I believe that the most significant modification to the theory and practice of church-state relations is the second Vatican (II), in which the Roman Catholic Church recognized the modern, secular, and pluralistic nation as a valid political entity. The union of church and state had been common practices since the era of Constantine, and all pontifical declarations of the 19th century which rejected the separation had resulted in major catastrophes, on almost every continent.

But the governments of the day should tap into the capacity of the church. Studies have shown the benefits of spirituality in healthcare, giving people stability and meaning especially its role in mortality, coping, and recovery. The physical aspects of illnesses and mental suffering call for a more compassionate type of healthcare, one best described as a pastoral or spiritual care available in places of worship.

Considering the fact that there have not been any community outbreaks linked to any of the church's 78 parishes, restrictions on religious gatherings should not be different from secular ones.

Donald Fajemisin, an NDP member, is an educator and a resident of Fort St. John. He is also a devout Catholic.

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