When I first arrived to Our Lady of Peace in August 2019, I had heard many stories of the high-energy Summer Oratory which took place each July for 3 weeks at the parish. I was looking forward to it because although it has been running since 2010, I had never personally experienced it. Every year, hundreds of youth and children from numerous parts of the diocese of San Jose come to the parish for weeks of Bible lessons, crafts, competitions, sports and time to gather with friends. An added benefit is the presence of many religious from our Religious Family who travel to help us with the camp. When we realized in March 2020 that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to significantly change our daily life, we foresaw the need to think creatively in the apostolate in order to continue to accompany all of the families under our care, but we never thought we would have to cancel the Summer Oratory.
A few months later, it became clear we were not going to be able to meet in-person according to the government directives at the time. Therefore, we needed to completely re-think the Summer Oratory. We asked our religious sisters and seminarians in Washington, DC for assistance since many of them had been planning to travel out to Santa Clara, CA in order to help with this particular apostolate. In order to be able to provide some productive and spiritually-enriching program to the youth and children from our parish, we decided we would go virtual since none of the religious would be able to travel during this time of sheltering-in-place. With the generosity of the sisters and seminarians of our Religious Family, video lessons, Mass talks, and craft ideas were soon recorded, all focusing on a study of the Gospel of Saint Matthew which we had already planned to use for the Summer Oratory of 2020. We used the 2020 WYD theme: “Young man, I say to you, arise”, and titled the virtual Bible Program “ARISE!”
Thanks to the effort of one of our sisters in the mission here at Our Lady of Peace, a security-based website was designed where we uploaded all the video lessons, music from past Oratories, and other activities for grades Kindergarten to 7th grade. Once families registered to participate, we then provided them with the password needed to access the website and take advantage of its resources. In addition, we met virtually each morning at 9am through Zoom in order to lead the children and youth in the traditional Morning Offering during the 3 week-long program. Our pastor, Father Brian Dinkel, IVE and one of his associate pastors, Father Jonathan Dumlao, IVE joined our morning sessions and gave some entertaining presentations to the kids. We gathered again on Zoom to pray the Holy Rosary at 3pm. These two moments were, as one mother put it, “a nice way to connect with the priests, sisters, and fellow families during this time when we could not gather together physically.”
Each morning about 25 teenagers also gathered separately on Zoom for a youth Bible study program from Ascension Press. One of our sisters led these meetings and found ways to include other activities for the teens to engage in, including international video conferencing with some of our missionary sisters in Tanzania and Egypt, as well as a drawing class with one of our contemplative sisters in Brooklyn.
Despite the technological glitches and the limitations of the digital forum, the program reached the 125 registered families, and proved to be surprisingly fruitful. We were happy to be able to work with families from our area, and even re-connect with several families who had moved away to other states. Another mother wrote “I wasn’t sure that [my daughter] would be able to sit through the sessions online but they are actually the highlight of her day! It is a wonderful way to stay connected to our OLOP family and to keep the kids exposed to religious life.”
We give thanks to God for all the known and unknown ways this program impacted the families and friends from Our Lady of Peace, especially for the opportunity to encourage the children and youth to remain rooted in the Word of God, the source of all perennial Truth. We are grateful to have been able to witness and experience the power of God, which is always active through the Gospels and able to work through any circumstances- His grace is enough.
M. Maria de la Revelacion
Missionary at Our Lady of Peace; Santa Clara, California