Father Viet “Juan” Quoc Hoang SVD, a graduate of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, was ordained at Techny and moved to Paraguay for his first assignment in 2018. He serves three parishes. The Paraguay Province recently announced his appointment as the district superior of Itapúa Sur district, one of the province’s five districts. He writes of the passing of a confrere during this unusual time.
By Father Viet “Juan” Quoc Hoang SVD
In March when Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez ordered flight restrictions, border closures and strict quarantine due to the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak, my heart sank. Little did I know, it would affect our way of saying “goodbye” to our dearly departed—dying in solitude, without visits, wake or hugs.
The sanitary security measures instituted by the Ministry of Health and presidential order prevent family members from carrying out traditional farewell rituals for their loved ones.
Along with the pain and sadness that COVID-19 causes, the epidemic is posing a very unusual scenario. The strict health restrictions deny relatives the right to say goodbye. This crisis is making us live through situations in which certain cultural values are subordinated to the objective priority of containing the spread of the pandemic.
One of the most dramatic and heartbreaking consequences is that even in their last moments of life, the grievously ill cannot see their relatives and are forced to die alone.
The pandemic changes the way we live and the way we die. To adjust, the archdiocese has modified the protocols for funeral services, both for deaths from this infection and for those who have died from other causes.
Many effected families naturally feel that this situation is cruel. Although they understand that the protocols are in place to combat a public health problem, it does not alleviate the sadness that they feel. There is no comfort at such difficult times.
Usually, the Catholic funeral rite is divided into several parts, each with its own purpose. During this pandemic, the typical funeral rite is simplified to one. As a Catholic religious priest, I am only allowed to do “un responso,” a last prayer for the deceased.
Do not confuse un responso with a Mass for the deceased. The responso is without Mass. This pastoral practice was put to the test when our confrere Father Bernardino Caceres SVD passed away due to health complications on April 17. He was the pastor of San Roque Gonzalez de Santa Cruz from 1987 to 1989 and 2006 to 2009.
I understand that grief is a necessary process, natural and inherent to the human being. But it does not mean that it was easy to say goodbye to our Father Caceres with only our provincial, vice provincial, the rector of our central retirement central house and the cemetery caretaker present.
The province’s cemetery, San Blas, is located 60 kilometers from the closest major city, Encarnacion. Father Caceres’s family and friends were not allowed during the burial because of travel restriction. The rest of us were there virtually.
New technologies like WhatsApp and Viber can help say goodbye to loved ones when no other alternative is possible. Through innovation and the use of modern tools, we can live through the pain of the pandemic together.