By Deacon John De Gano
“There is nothing new under the sun,” wrote Qoheleth, the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes, in 3 BC.
This honest, if blunt, assessment might have well been on the lips of Jesus Christ a few years later when he predicted the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
“There will be wars and rumors of wars,” he said. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place.”
But, Jesus said, the end was not yet to be.
And Jesus was right. The Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. And various empires and nations have come and gone throughout all of recorded history.
We see great upheavals taking place today. War in the Ukraine. Natural disasters. Drought and flooding. And with them, the need for people to relocate from their homes and countries to foreign lands.
These refugees become members of the diaspora community, that is, the “dispersed.”
As Catholics and Christians, we usually associate the word “diaspora” with the Jewish people in the Old Testament. They were taken captive and driven into exile by both the Assyrian and the Babylonian Empires. Many never returned to Israel again.
Christians, too, became members of the diaspora as they fled the persecution in Jerusalem. A Jewish zealot named Saul set off for Damascus one day to arrest and bring them back for trial. Along the way he encountered the risen Jesus and experienced such a conversion that he became known as (St.) Paul, the missionary to the gentiles.
St. Paul’s efforts were amply rewarded. The church grew and continued to spread until it became the universal (catholic) church that it has become.
Today, the church faces a new challenge. A new kind of diaspora is taking place.
While many faced economic hardships during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic and were forced to relocate to other communities (or even states) there were also those who found themselves “dispersed” not from their homes or jobs but rather from their faith life.
In an effort to stem the spread of the virus, businesses and religious congregations were ordered to close their doors. The Catholic churches attempted to bridge the loss of in-person liturgy through the use of social media; however, when in-person Masses resumed, many continued to stay at home.
Without knowing for certain if the reason they stay away is COVID-related or the aftermath of the prolonged shutdown, Pope Francis is challenging the faithful to once again go out to the periphery (like we did with our synodal listening process) and invite them back.
Responding to them with love, perhaps, we will see “the beginning” of labor pains once again. Or if the time of delivery has come, Jesus could be inviting us to witness the “birthing” of a new revival in the life of the Church, where unity and peace prevail. And all may shout with joy, “To the glory the God!”
John De Gano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in Riverside.