MAKING THREE IMPORTANT MESSAGES GO VIRAL – Catechetical Commission launches Guide for Emotional Well-being During the Epidemic

– Jasmin Yiu

The Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak has spiraled into a global threat, schools are closed in most places. Due to the suspension of schools, the Diocesan Commission for Catechetical Formation launched the Guide for Emotional Well-being During the Epidemic. Miss Magdalene Chan Si-weng, Vice Director of the Diocesan Commission for Catechetical Formation, shared with O CLARIM the aim of the production.

When did the idea of the guide come up?

Since the Catholic Diocese of Macau has adopted a series of measures regarding the coronavirus, most church activities need to be suspended, including parish activities, Sunday schools, Catechism and Doctrine classes etc, in order to cooperate with the government’s epidemic prevention work by reducing personal contacts. In this process, I had some worries in my field of responsibility, especially for the kids who will receive the sacraments [of baptism and confirmation]. Their formation is affected because of the suspension of Sunday Schools. This forced me to think: “What can I do for them? Some Sunday School teachers have some plans and ways to communicate with students; what contribution can I provide for them?” This was my initial thought, so when the suspension started, I began to think of some possible ways and methods.

In fact, Sunday School and catechism classes, and even religious formation at schools, are regular pastoral approaches of preaching that use different teaching materials and tools. Now we have encountered a very special situation, which requires us to use some special methods.

Point 71 of the General Directory for Catechesis published by the Congregation for the Clergy in 1997 speaks about “occasional catechesis which seeks to interpret determined circumstances of personal, family, ecclesial or social life and to help live them in the prospect of faith.”

So the coronavirus epidemic is an “occasional catechesis,” which drove me to design this set of materials. With these, I hope to use the opportunity to bring certain messages to Sunday School students and catechists.

What messages do you want to drive home?

I hope this set of materials can deliver three messages.

First, in this special occasion of coronal virus epidemic, whether we are Christians or not, we should follow the instructions of epidemic prevention, in both our daily life as well as our life of faith. Therefore, this guide includes some basic guidelines, such as: wash hands frequently, wear a mask, keep the environment clean, and so on.

Another message is that our formation never stops. Public schools and Sunday schools are suspended – what to do during this time? Even if we cannot attend regular formational activities as usual, we can also do similar work at home, like: studying, reading and meditating on the Bible, praying, or even communicating with teachers through the internet.

The third message is the most important: our relationship with God. After baptism, it does not mean that everything in our life goes smoothly. we will still experience sickness and death. But Jesus promises us, “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). We pray not to ask God to take away the obstacles and challenges in life, but to ask God to grant us the Faith, to trust in God even in such an environment, and to communicate with Him joyfully. This is a strong message that I would like to bring out. “God is always with us.” This is one of the most important themes in catechesis.

I hope this guide can spread these three important messages effectively.

What is the design process of this guide?

While composing it, I used the Pastoral Letter announced by Bishop Stephen Lee as a reference. He suggested that we keep learning and studying at home, in order to maintain physical and mental health. At the same time, I also referred to the guidelines issued by the Macau government, inviting all to maintain personal hygiene and other measures. Adding the three messages mentioned earlier, then I started to write some sentences and chose some Bible verses. I also had constant communication with the other members of the Commission through WhatsApp. They provided some useful comments and feedback. Lastly, I invited a designer from HK to start the drawing and designing process.

I realized you used cartoons in the guide. Are children your initial target? Why?

Yes, when I started the project, my initial target were children,  so the language has to be clear and clean, because long text and sentences may not attract children’s attention. Furthermore, I used sentences that children can understand, which adults can understand of course. Therefore it forced me to first design materials for children, as a stepping stone.

When the guide was launched, we received many positive comments from both Macau and Hong Kong. Is the  Commission [for Catechetical Formation] planning to have more similar designs and materials in the future?

I have just mentioned that this set of materials was born because of this special occasion, with the situation of suspension of schools. But answering your question, I personally think there is room for a similar design in the future, but with a different theme. When everything is back to normal, we will try to match the concerns of the universal church or of the Diocese. Therefore we need to have more discussions, but our commission would be more than happy to produce our own materials.

There are many Bible verses in the guide, but how to use them? Since most people only flip and read it once. How do you expect the faithful or the catechists to put it into practice? Will there be a deeper impact from the guide?

There is a very important page at the end of the guide, that is the prayer to St Roque. The Pastoral Directive of the Chancery encourages everyone to pray especially to the saint in this very period of time. Especially in Macau, we have over a hundred years of tradition of devotion  St Roque, which is also a characteristic of the local church. I hope the people can grasp the messages that I would like to bring out, but even if they don’t, I still hope – at least – we can pray together to St Roque.