Greetings and well wishes from St. George Parish in Fontana. SVDs have been serving this parish since 2013 and we have been growing ever since. Currently, we have 2251 registered families
who strive to follow Christ’s gospel of love, leadership and collaboration as brothers and sisters in God’s family. That’s the good news!
The bad news is we are under siege. When Covid came on the scene, we were all hoping that the global pandemic would soon disappear. But day by day it only grew worse. Now we have been in lockdown for one year. We are all in the same world boat and whether we’ve tested positive or negative, we have all been deeply affected.
Our inter-connectedness has been broken by social distancing. Our support systems, the economy, healthcare, and everything that we used to depend upon in normal times, has been fractured by the lockdown. Worst of all, the pandemic has shaken our faith. But in the midst of it all, we are trying to get in step with the new rhythm and find new ways to live a “new normal.”
Due to this new normal, our worship services are now in the open air under make-shift canopies. One of our families generously donated them for our services. But here, in Fontana, we need more than one such donation. Fontana, as you may know, is famous for one big thing—its forceful “Santa Ana” winds. From November right on through to February, at any time, you can expect the “big blows” to come rushing on down at 60 miles per hour through the El Cajon pass onto Sierra Avenue, the main street of Fontana. It knocks trees, power lines, the occasional semi-truck and everything that isn’t solidly bolted down. Not a good town to set up make-shift canopies!
Fortunately, only a couple of times this year have the nasty Santa Ana’s sent our canopies, altar cloths, trash cans, and everything else that isn’t nailed down, flying off to somewhere in Riverside County. In between the big blows, we have been able to put up new canopies and we continue to hold our outside services as if nothing ever happened. Fortunately we have a big group of Santa Ana-savvy volunteers who assist us in this task. They also help with our virtual classes for baptism, catechism and marriage preparation.
On a more serious note, on January 10, 2021, we were blessed to receive the first visit of our new bishop, Alberto Rojas. While presiding over Mass in both English and Spanish, he encouraged us with a very hope-filled message, which was greatly appreciated. Over the past two months many of our parishioners have tested positive for Covid, many are still battling the illness in hospitals and, sadly, some have died. I have been going out to visit affected families to console them and, whenever possible, to help them with needed supplies. It has been a very difficult time for us—there are so many grief-stricken families. I try to empower them to manage their lives in this stressful time and to find hope by relying on their faith in God’s presence and continued care.
The people are literally struggling to survive. Most of them are living “hand-to-mouth” and have no backup or security outside of what they can get from their equally poor extended family members. Of course our collections have gone way down and at times I wonder how to pay the bills. But God does provide in mysterious ways. Even though we are running in the red and struggling financially, our food pantry remains open. In a spirit of solidarity many contribute to it and many others benefit from their contributions. Through this and various other means, we are able reach out to the people, and show our concern for those who have lost dear ones or family members.
In spite of the virus or the Santa Ana’s, it is the faith of the people that allows our ministry to continue. We don’t know when the next “big blow” will come or how long the virus will be with us. But we do know how to be sensible about it and what we must do to adapt. We know that we need to continue in a spirit of solidarity to support one another through acts of kindness and love. But most of all we know that we need to keep the faith and pray that God will continue to look after us.
-Fr. Deebar Yonas SVD