'Giving something up' for COVID-19 - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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When meeting at the garbage truck becomes the highlight of the week (garbage truck in Cochabamba).

Some of us recall the practice, frequently taught in Catholic Schools, to give up a favorite activity, food, beverage or something similar during the 40 days of Lent. The purpose, as I understood it, was to identify with the tremendous sacrifice made by Jesus as he willingly accepted our Father’s plan for his death and resurrection. Despite making my Lenten vow this year so my sacrifice could help me identify in a very small way with the suffering of Jesus, worldwide events have overtaken my choice.

Since March 22, we have been living in a countrywide, total quarantine in Bolivia. We are able to go out from 7 a.m. to noon, once a week (according to a Monday-to-Friday schedule, using the last digit our Bolivian identity cards), to only purchase groceries, do our banking and to make purchases at a pharmacy.

All non-essential activities, including walking the dog, are prohibited. Public transportation and private vehicles are banned. Violators are arrested for eight hours and fined the U.S. equivalent of $144. Except for emergencies, no one can go out on Saturdays and Sundays.

Among my next-door neighbors, we have rediscovered the simple joys of sharing bicycles to get to the markets, tools to make needed home repairs and friendly hellos from a safe distance.

On Wednesdays, my 25 or so nearby neighbors and I get to very briefly “visit” one another with our surgical masks and gloves as we answer the cow bell of the garbage collectors. Leaving garbage at the curbside is now prohibited, and it must be thrown directly into the truck. The truck briefly stops in mid street and residents hurry to not miss the opportunity to dispose of their waste. We exchange waves, simple pleasantries and promptly return to our homes. Afterwards, I feel relieved that we are able to dispose of our garbage; yet I also feel sad since we go back into our homes behind closed doors. The silence again dominates.

It is one thing to voluntarily make life-style changes or to give up something for Lent, it is totally different to have external factors force us to make changes and to sacrifice. Jesus, may we use this time to better comprehend your sacrifice for us.


Joe Loney
A Maryknoll lay missioner since 1995, Joe Loney oversees a social-inclusion project for persons with disabilities (Avancemos Juntos para la Inclusion Social de las Personas con Discapacidades) in Tacopaya, Entre Rios and Cochabamba, Bolivia.