‘Locked’ in the United States by COVID-19

The pandemic caught Raul Buhay in one of the communities in the United States and he has had to extend his stay without the possibility of returning to Rome.

General Councilor Raul Buhay [pictured here, first from right] is adapting to his “new life” in the community of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Santa Ana, California. He works as a cook, officiates at one of the daily Masses of the parish and works in the translation of documents. “I am living day by day,” he says. He should be in his community in Rome, but the COVID-19 has upset his plans and for the time being forces him to stay in the United States. He does not know the end of a journey that was to last 14 days and which has now exceeded three months.

On 9 March, Buhay took off from the Rome-Fiumicino Airport for California. The Prior General entrusted him with the task of revising the English translation of the Constitutions of the Order. As an English speaker, he would assist Fr. Tom Devine in this work. It was difficult for the Augustinian Recollect priest to move to Rome, so the most opportune thing was for the General Councilor to travel to his home. While flying to the United States, Italy decreed the closure of borders as an extreme measure to fight the coronavirus. “I didn’t think they were going to close the borders that day,” he confesses.

An unexpected extension of the trip

When we arrived in the United States, everything was normal. The Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe was packed with the faithful at Sunday Masses. That apparent normality was transformed and the COVID-19 took on more and more prominence. On March 19, just four days before his initial return date, Donald Trump announced the closure of the US borders.

A few weeks later, the community of religious decided that the woman responsible for the kitchen should stop coming to avoid contagion. So Buhay took charge of the kitchen and helped clean up the house. He began to lead an active life in the community, foreseeing that his stay would be extended. He started shopping and cooking for the religious. On her trips to the supermarket to buy food she noticed the precariousness that the coronavirus had brought with it. Many people have been left with hardly any resources. One day he had to help a lady financially who could not afford to buy a banana.

Raul Buhay is also one of the community’s leaders in the distribution of masses. He has been celebrating the Eucharist online and has now begun to celebrate with the people after the reopening of the parish on June 13. “Only 100 people came when the parish was normally full,” he says. It is hoped that people will gradually overcome their fear. In the state of California, 133,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus, of whom 5,000 have died.

No time for fear

It’s not all negative, though. The unexpected length of his journey has allowed him to successfully complete the translation of the Constitutions and to revise the work up to three times. “In the meantime, the statutes and form of life of the Secular Augustinian Recollect Fraternity arrived and we started with it,” he explains. If everything had gone as planned, “we would not have had time”.

At no time did he feel burdened by not being able to return to Rome. “With the translations, the preparation of the food and the celebration of the Mass I have not had time for boredom”, the religious confirms. Even spiritually, this time has been more intense. “We’ve always put the people we love in God’s hands,” he says. There has been more prayer and above all more reflection. “The most important thing about this time is that we have discovered that it is not essential what we thought it was; the essential thing is that we have God”.

Raul Buhay is waiting for the answer from the Italian consulate to return to his community. They told him that he can only return to the European country for essential reasons, for which they have asked him for a return permit. If the consulate accepts his request, then he should find a flight to Rome to return. However, there is something that worries him: he wants to integrate again into the community of Via Sistina, but he is afraid of infecting the religious who have avoided the coronavirus all these months. “So much time taking care of himself, what if now I arrive and transmit it to him?”