by a Books Critic
We would rather forget the isolation horrors during Covid, but Salvinu Caruana of Marsaxlokk won’t allow us to do so. He has just published his rhymes from the Covid days when his loneliness hit new lows after having lost his wife shortly beforet he pandemic. In the book entitled “Bidu u Tmiem il-Covid-19” (Best Print, Il-Qrendi) the author mentions how he tapped into religious services from Marsalforn, on the other island. The services were among the first to appear online, live. He came to lean on the church rector for what he described as “Tul pandemija mxejt ma’ saċerdot / Minn ħafna biżgħa żammna ‘l bogħod.”
The rector, Dun Mikiel Borg, regaled the author with the first chapter in the book in which he spoke of his own insecurities and worries as a priest. The following is a summarized translation of the chapter into English, seeking to be faithful to Dun Mikiel’s own thoughts:
Dun Mikiel before Covid-19
“After the first three days of the lockdown, I thought I was going crazy. I had locked the front door of the church and celebrated Mass by myself. My head was spinning trying to make sense of what was happening. The experience was unbearable. I opened the front door of the church and instead locked the inner door (“antiporta”). This allowed me to see the street outside. Once in a while, a parishioner would look in from behind the antiporta glass, say a prayer, and leave again. But this wasn’t enough for me. I couldn’t remain isolated.
I contacted Max Garabez, a Maltese living in Marsalforn. He was giving online classes from his seaside resort. I sought his advice on what I could do to reach out beyond the confines of the church building. Being an expert in computers, he recommended YouTube or Facebook as the medium of choice. I put my trust in his suggestions and shortly thereafter I started calling, or better still shouting, “Hello testing… from St Paul’s Church in Marsalforn.” To my relief, replies started coming in to my live messages. They were words of encouragement. “Hearts” and “Like” multiplied.
I didn’t have the best apparatus. I reached out to Gregory Attard from San Lawrenz village. He checked the telephone line, the internet, and the wires. The live streaming upgrading was done. The messages poured in further. An online community, dubbed “United in Christ,” was formed. At 5:00 PM, I would start the adoration with spiritual reflections, at 5:30 PM we said the rosary to Mary, and at 6:00 PM, the Mass started. The Sunday schedule was different. Maltese started tapping in from everywhere, beyond the two islands, including Australia, the United States, Italy, England, and India. I made it a point to make the altar visually appealing through flower arrangements.
The experience was good for my heart and mind. I thought of the Apostles when they started evangelising around the world. Mine was one of the first Maltese churches that reached out through the internet. Word spread around that many were following my Mass. False rumours swirled around that the church doors were wide open for anyone to come in for Mass service. Once a woman came in for confession. On her way back home, a man stepped out in his balcony and chided her that she shouldn’t go to church since it was supposed to be closed. He called the police who promptly came and filed a report. I was worried about it, but nothing came out of it.
The Caritas office at the Gozo Curia, where I worked for part of the week, had closed down. But the requests for food continued to pour in. I printed vouchers, and in agreement with the Marsalforn groceries, I handed them to those who sought help. Sometimes, they called me since they couldn’t come in person. I would then proceed to buy the groceries myself and deliver them to their doorstep. This added to my spiritual dimension of the Covid experience.
After Mass, I would remain on the internet with some of those who had attended the Mass live. We called it a virtual coffee hour and our conversations would range from praying together to informal discussions. Sometimes, in jest, they would send me pictures of steaming coffee cups. On my birthday, I “shared” with them a lovely cake from Jessica’s Delights in Marsalforn. It was for real. It was my turn to tease them.
I would not have survived without my online community. They had lifted me up from the doldrums of the first few days and carried me through. They kept me busy preparing my services. Among those who lent their full support was Salvinu from Marsaxlokk with his emails, rhymes, and messages.”