Denver, Colo., Mar 31, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA) – The coronavirus pandemic has led colleges across the country to close their dorms, and offer classes online. As students return home with time on their hands, Catholics involved in campus ministry have offered advice on how to spend this time wisely.
Father John Ignatius, SJC, who served as chaplain at the University of Denver, and Peter Nguyen, a FOCUS missionary for Harvard University, have emphasized the important role of community, spiritual life, and charitable actions amidst quarantine.
Ignatius, who also leads the Servants of Christ Jesus religious community, told CNA that displaced students should prioritize prayer, community, and exercise, while making efforts to limit their screen time.
“It’ll be so easy to binge on episodes [on] Netflix. [They should] decrease screen time and extracurricular time to be more relational,” Fr. Ignatius said.
“College students would do well to stay in touch with each other via phones … Hopefully it’s a live conversation by phone or by Skype or FaceTime or any of the mediums you’re actually having face time with peers that are at a distance.”
Fr. Ignatius said displaced students should also make time for charity, especially by picking up the phone.
“Just consider the consolation and the blessing that a grandson or a granddaughter could give to someone who’s isolated and scared. It makes all the difference in the world to have just a 15 or 20 minute conversation with the grandparents and just think beyond one’s own interests,” he said.
The priest added that students might also consider offering virtual tutoring to children they know have been displaced from school, or, if local laws permit it, offering snacks or essentials to homeless people while taking a walk.
Fr. Ignatius emphasized that the pandemic is an opportunity to reignite a neglected prayer life. He suggested students might pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or spend time reading scripture. He also pointed to resources from groups like FOCUS, which have made spiritual resources available online.
Nguyen, the FOCUS missionary, also stressed the importance of reinvigorating a prayer life, noting that too much free-time can become its own kind distraction from prayer. He said during these difficult times, it is important to rely on the Lord.
“I think the notion of free time is a little scary because [in] school they have all these activities and they have classes and they have their sacramental life ….It’s scheduled out and so there’s a certain safety and security in order that we as Catholics know is there,” Nguyen told CNA.
“If we’re in the crucible right now with the Lord, the one thing that will help sustain us is daily conversation and prayer with him.”
Nguyen pointed to some of the virtual options the students have available for them at Harvard. He said FOCUS at the university has started online events, including Bible studies and virtual praise and worship sessions, which last Sunday drew around 200 hundreds views from students.
“We believe the word of God is so effective, especially in this trying time. I think … people are kind of longing for a sense of spiritual nourishment,” he said.
While FOCUS has launched its discipleship program online as well, he said, the most important aspect is to focus on accountability and personal investment through consistent contact with these students, Nguyen said..
“In this time, we’re still doing virtual things in order to continue to minister to our students who we encourage to their friends through the use of Zoom and in conversation on the phone, et cetera… Personal investment is probably the most important thing that we can be doing right now,” he said.