SVD students and academics might have had their face-to-face lectures cancelled and all lessons moved online, but they are not letting the COVID-19 crisis dim their missionary zeal.
In fact, the students say that the coronavirus restrictions have forced them to adapt to changing circumstances and continue to reach out to people online, in person and in prayer, all of which are necessary attributes for a life of mission in the modern world.
The young missionaries are studying Theology at Yarra Theological Union, the University of Divinity and say they have adapted well to the change in learning environment over the last couple of months.
“This new environment has changed the atmosphere of learning which is usually done in class,” says Deacon Adrianus (John) Mai.
“It takes time to adjust to the new situation, however it hasn’t been difficult to shift from the classroom to online. I’ve adapted well to the online classes and I enjoy it now.”
There have been some frustrations however, including an unreliable internet connection at Dorish Maru College, which has meant semi-regular interruption to lectures, but the Province is working to have it fixed soon.
Francois Andrianihantana says moving lessons online has been a big change, but things are going well.
“Personally I think I’ve adapted well to the online classes where I can quietly and comfortably study by myself from my room,” he says. “I am also content with the fact that there is no particular component of my courses that I had to cancel. All lecturers are able to deliver their courses online and they are more than happy to help if any of their students need their help.”
Edward Okletey Teye says that while he has adapted well to the online learning, he misses face-to-face contact and the group discussions in tutorials.
“I must admit I prefer face-to-face learning to the new online classes,” he says. “In one way, interaction time has reduced, as well as the chance to consult lecturers on personal clarifications during coffee breaks.”
But, Edward has quickly adapted and now emails his lecturers with questions and spends more time on the reading material which has replaced the group discussions.
And it’s not only the students feeling the effects of the COVID-19 restrictions on their daily lives. SVD academics have also been forced to take on new practices.
Fr Albano Da Costa SVD, who is on the academic staff of YTU, University of Divinity and is the director of studies at Dorish Maru College says it has been a huge learning curve and has thrown everyone out of their comfort zones.
“Given the current situation of lecturing two full new units online (with Zoom) in the current semester and two more in the next, I am in fact more engaged than usual,” he says.
Fr Albano says that with libraries closed down and isolation restrictions in place, academic staff have had the added responsibility of providing more online digital resources and purchasing more eBooks across the university online portal so that students have enough academic resources to complete their assessment tasks and independent self-study.
“This, of course, has added more time pressure and constraints in responding to students’ emails and requests for further reading materials, questions, and clarifications on a set topic each week within the academic curriculum,” he says.
He says that what he misses most is his face-to-face interactions with students in a classroom setting, interactions with faculty across the university, and his pastoral connection with people in local parishes and school communities.
But, Fr Albano and the students all agree that there are positives to come out of the current situation too.
While they have been observing the lockdown rules and only leaving the college grounds for essential reasons, the SVD community at Dorish Maru College has been growing more closely together,
“The COVID-19 restrictions saw us reduce the number of people sitting at each table in the dining room from six to three,” says Edward.
“Having three people on the table encouraged community interaction at dinner time. Each person had an appropriate time to share stories and had their voices heard. With the fewer numbers, I feel I have strengthened and deepened my relationships with my brothers through extended conversations.”
The Dorish Maru community has also commenced evening Rosary prayers together to intercede for the world against the coronavirus pandemic.
Francois says the restrictions have challenged him as a social being who desires to be in contact and interaction with other humans inside and outside the community.
“As a missionary however, I join with other people all around the world who are finding new ways to address the need for reaching out and for interconnectedness,” he says.
“The crisis has given me more time to reflect on what is happening in the world. It emboldens me to be more creative and use the technology such as Facebook to connect and support others. Apart from joining a Zoom meeting group which prays for the world, I, together with my SVD brothers have also used our voices and musical instruments to create music to support those who need it.
“We may be distanced from others, but through music, we can show to others that they are in our hearts and prayers.”
Fr Albano agrees that the time of reflection and prayer that isolation has brought helps us find our way through these uncertain times.
“And so instead of focusing on the worthless path of resuming as soon as possible what was done before, let us invest our time in reflecting how we can live and grow and be creative together in devising new pathways of being church in a wounded world,” he says.
TOP RIGHT: SVD student Josef Meda is pictured at Dorish Maru College taking part in an online lecture.
MIDDLE LEFT: Quoc Cuong Dang attending a zoom lecture in his room.
BOTTOM RIGHT: Fr Albano Da Costa SVD pictured delivering an online lecture for students at YTU, the University of Divinity.