Fr Alejandro de la Sotta SVD arrived in New Zealand to take up his new post of chaplain to Auckland’s Latino community on March 17 – two days before the nation’s borders closed and people were ordered to stay at home to try and beat the coronavirus.
“I arrived, and a week later, the government announced a national quarantine,” he says.
Not to be deterred, Fr Alejandro, who was born and raised in Chile, jumped into his new ministry using the various tools at his disposal in these challenging and unusual times.
“We celebrated Masses via Zoom on Sundays,” he says. “It was a wonderful experience as many Latinos, friends, family and many others who lived in New Zealand joined these Masses and even some Australians from Alice Springs (where Fr Alejandro was previously assigned) joined in.”
More recently, with New Zealand having controlled the pandemic and eased restrictions, the Latino community has been meeting at St Francis Church in Auckland’s suburbs, where Fr Alejandro is assistant priest, and soon they will return to their usual meeting place of St Benedict’s Church, which is closer to the city centre.
Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, Fr Alejandro says he has spoken with many people in the Latino community and is looking forward to working together with them.
“I have had the opportunity to share a lot with them,” he says. “We have many ideas for the future, taking advantage of what technology gives us.
“So far about 65 people have participated in the Masses and we expect about 80 people when we return to St Benedict’s. We will start some activities and invite many Latinos living in Auckland to take part in them.”
Fr Alejandro says the Spanish-speaking Catholic community in Auckland is made up of people from many nationalities, including Colombians, Venezuelans, Peruvians, Chileans, Salvadorans, Argentines and others, and there are many young people and families.
The Latino community celebrates Masses on the second and fourth Sundays of each month at St Benedict’s and there is another Latino community in Tauranga, about 240km from Auckland, which meets on the fifth Sunday, who he is also hoping to meet with more often.
Apart from celebrating the sacraments and sharing in community gatherings, Fr Alejandro is hoping to start a podcast with daily reflections on the gospel of the day “and some stories that feed the soul”.
“I hope to meet a community that wants to celebrate God in our own language,” he says.
“May we help each other as brothers with similar experiences of living away from home. I hope that as a community, we realise that as Latinos, we have a lot to offer, and not just receive from New Zealand.”
PHOTO: Fr Alejandro de la Sotta SVD, pictured with members of Auckland's Latino community.