March 10, 2020 I was still in the Philippines enjoying the last days of my annual vacation (I was due back to Guam in two days’ time) when my sisters in the community anxiously messaged me, asking me for important decisions about the facility. After a brief update of the situation on the island and some discussions on the phone, we have finally decided that the facility needs to go into a LOCK-DOWN. So, starting on March 12, with the official memorandum signed by Sr. Ursula Apacionado our Local Prioress and our Acting Assistant Administrator, the facility was placed in a lock-down. By God’s design, I boarded the plane bound for Guam on March 12 around 10:30 pm and the lock-down was declared in Manila and was implemented simultaneously after midnight of that same day! I landed on Guam on the morning of March 13 and was safely in my room, exhausted and amazed at what had just happened! There was little time for me to rest nor to ponder, as I immediately attended to many things needed in the facility, moreover, my own quarantine of 14 days, was looming over my head as I was hailing from travel out of Guam during these endangered times.
On the get go I can firmly say: I am very grateful for having this great SDSCH family here in our facility from day one of this pandemic! Why? Because, I did go into a 14-day quarantine, nonetheless I could work from my room as my sisters in the community were all dependable and responsible – they continued with their assigned tasks and the employees and staff also got into the new protocols with ease and dependability! It was still the beginnings of this unknown pandemic and the uncertainty was just setting in… but I found that we were all simply moving as one family; guided along by the Holy Spirit; each person giving her/his all and contributing invaluable service just by doing their particular jobs/tasks well.
Mealtimes in the community became very precious to me. They were practically the only time to meet the sisters; we would share each event and happening, learning from our daily experiences and just moving forward. We always had interesting topics ranging from work to fun games and jokes and camaraderie and just plain bantering. When decisions needed to be made in the facility, we would have a discussion where the opinion of every sister is valued, and the final decision is made with all this information taken into careful consideration.
I made it a point to update all the sisters regarding the daily status of the facility. This was a way for them to share the mission itself and in a way its burdens. Four (4) of the sisters are over 75 years old and so were in lock-down from day one to this day. Staying in the confines of the convent, they are our prayer warriors and power source.
I also updated myself with the status of each resident and was in close communication with our Director of Nursing and our Medical Director. When I was released from my 14 days self-imposed quarantine, I tried to meet each department and get in touch with all the employees and staff, both with regards to their personal well-being and their work concerns. I have scheduled meetings by department whenever there was an important development or change in our protocols and operations.
Covid-19 may have curtailed our “traditional and normal” procedures, but our work/services continued. With the added safety protocols and careful vigilance of social distancing, we simply continued to give Nursing Care to all our residents. It might be more difficult for us now with Covid-19, but none of the operations in the facility were discontinued or sacrificed. Work hours were steady throughout the pandemic and even until this day, although everyone is always working in the ambiance of the risk of exposure and contamination, we just marvel at God’s mercy that to this writing we are all safe!
Our mission in the facility is essential, we cannot just stop caring for those who cannot take care of themselves, especially during an emergency!
Looking at our community life during the pandemic, I was also amazed to find that we moved as one community, accompanying each other in the way our personalities would complement each one for a harmonious living together in these trying times. We all tried to be faithful to our regular observances and tried to be creative to be able to do everything that was planned out for the year; hence we were able to have the 60th Religious Profession Anniversary celebration of Sister Milagros Emralino on June 1, with the solemn Mass and also a private agape. Of course, the celebration was not in a level comparable to a grand one before Covid-19. Luckily, we were also able to do our annual retreat for this year. Since this mission was inaugurated in 1987, we have invited Dominican Priests to come and give our annual retreat and for the first time this was not possible due to travel bans. So, we invited 6 priests from our Archdiocese, who were very generous in taking up the commission at such short notice. We found the blessing was also there waiting for us! We had conferences, confessions, silent prayers and meditations. We also received the plenary blessing after an annual retreat!
We were able to push through the renovation of our kitchen and refectory just in time for the celebration of our Feast Day with Holy Mass celebrated in our chapel in honor of St. Dominic! Of course there were no guests but we gave a nice celebration lunch for our employees and staff numbering about 80. There are so many other things – too many to mention… and this leaves me with a sense of awe for God’s abiding love and presence in our midst!
There are also many disappointments and personal sufferings which we all embraced generously – not being able to go for the annual vacation this year and the much-needed medical check-ups in the Philippines. However, God continues to watch over our sick sisters in the community and somehow, we have managed to stay home and go for doctor’s visit only when it is absolutely necessary. Wonder of wonders, I was even able to submit my application to process my green card, just before Pres. Trump closed the applications section!
September 2, 2020 So what is different in our life and mission with COVID-19 in our midst? What is the “new normal” for us? I think this Covid-19 experience and challenge has made us more grateful for what we already have in religious life. The characteristics of a religious life in mission is brought home to us in more concrete terms. The challenge is clear – to embrace this life we promised to live – following Jesus Christ both in a religious life well lived and even in the fear of death. It has given each of us the opportunity to look deeper into the “essential nature” of our consecrated life and our mission here in SDSCH. While we are very much aware of the suffering of other people around the world, our prayer of solidarity has become humbler as we find ourselves so poor in that we are helpless as we are faced with so much suffering. We can only do our best in our mission and reach out with some donations while we experience our own lack of resources! We have a long way to go yet… but we will move as ONE FAMILY IN THE HOLY SPIRIT.