During these dark days of the coronavirus pandemic, we are constantly bombarded with frightening statistics, are anxious for our senior adults and at-risk populations, adjust to working from home, and witness irrational behavior in our grocery stores. As we face this tsunami of emotions and challenges, we Maryknoll lay missioners in Brazil have found that we also need to take time to reflect on what gives us hope. With so much negativity and fear in our news and social media—valid as some of it may be—we can become overly focused on the very things that make us more vulnerable to illness.
As a lay missioner in São Paulo, Brazil, I know that I am stressed and at times feel helpless. I think of all the people in the streets of our city who are not receiving services due to quarantines and cancelled projects, especially the many thousands who are considered to be at special risk. I want to help, but also do not want to make the situation worse by potentially carrying the virus to someone else, especially someone who does not have good access to healthcare.
I think about the children I work with, who live in occupied abandoned buildings that can have up to 50 families per floor with poor access to running water and sanitation. I pray that they have families who love and protect them.
I pray for all of those who are suffering—that God is with them and helps them to make it through this trying time. I do not think I have prayed more in my life.
But I know that I also have to focus on hope, because without it, I do not think things will get better. We can fall victim to stress, anxiety, and fear—which are not exactly immune boosters but the very weights that bring our defenses down. It is therefore crucial for all of us to incorporate some self-care into our days.
That could mean calling a loved one, exercising, having comforting food, reading, taking a nap, or even unplugging from screens for a bit.
Kathy Bond, a fellow Maryknoll lay missioner in João Pessoa in the Northeast of Brazil, emphasizes the importance and benefits of forming a daily routine during stressful times.
Kathy describes some ways she incorporates self-care into her day: “I am exercising every day and try to do one activity—usually walking—outside the house. I am doing a daily prayer meditation. I have been cooking more from scratch and hanging out with my dog.”
Her ministries include holistic and stress-reducing health and mental health workshops and training as well as leadership development for women in marginalized communities.
“I have moved my work online,” Kathy says. “Right now, I give two online yoga classes per week and one Shantala [baby massage] workshop. I have also been asked to develop yoga sequences and share them by WhatsApp, which I am doing. As a self-care move, I have left several WhatsApp groups that I felt were full of misinformation and hysterical. ”
My own daily routine these days include daily meditation and yoga, using varying applications such as DownDog by Buddhi Co. and Youtube. Like Kathy, I have also started moving parts of my ministry—art education for young children—online. For those having to take care of young children while schools are closed, I am now posting art-activity videos on Youtube in English and Portuguese.
For Margarita Duran, another Maryknoll lay missioner in São Paulo, the kind of self-care she is looking for is expressed by a quote she found on Bilhetes de Amor, which she translates as, “Give yourself a break, to calm the mess inside you, organize your thoughts and feelings. To be at peace with yourself is also important.”
“Organizing your thoughts and feelings” and “calming the mess inside you” for Margarita has included reflecting on the unexpected benefits of interruption.
“This moment in time can be beneficial for some of us,” she explains. “It can be the break we may have needed or longed for. It can be a time to organize ourselves, our priorities, our goals and our next steps toward them.”
But she also realizes that for many people this pandemic has created more suffering. “I wish there was more I could do to (physically and spiritually) support those strongly affected,” she says. In these times of confinement, she notes, “I can merely do what is in my own reach during these circumstances.” She hopes that some of her self-care actions “can positively impact those in need tomorrow. Staying home today, can mean a life saved tomorrow.”
Margarita adds, “In ‘calming my mess,’ I pray that my choices today will lead me to be a better servant tomorrow. Keeping this in mind has been a source for inner peace, calm and faith in the midst of this storm.”
All of us lay missioners in Brazil pray that you be well in these turbulent times of uncertainty, that you may never lose hope, and that you too incorporate differing self-care practices to help you focus on the light as we go together through these dark nights.