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Social distancing restrictions have Lenten connection, says priest who returned from Italy

Father Chris Seiler sees invitation to renew what is essential, take time for prayer

Fr. Seiler
Earlier this month, Father Christopher Seiler was in Italy for graduate studies. He is in formation to work for the Holy See, studying to work for the Vatican as a diplomat. He lives in a home with 37 other priests from 21 countries in the training program.

On March 8, the Vatican Secretary of State, which oversees the formation, informed the students that they could return to their home countries because the universities at the Vatican were closing. The house remains open for less than half the students who stayed.

“I’m writing my dissertation at this point. I decided to leave because I can write just as easily at home as I can there,” Father Seiler said.

He left just before more restrictive travel bans took effect.

A seminarian studying at the Vatican, Eddie Godefroid, also is back in St. Louis. As a precaution, both Father Seiler and Godefroid are self-quarantine for two weeks.

Lent is a time when people strip away things to focus on the essential realities of life and death and our relationship with Jesus, Father Seiler said. Doing that by force, not able to leave homes without certification in the case of Italians, is an invitation to renew what is essential, take time for prayer and use the time well, he said.

In his isolation at his parents’ house, he said, he has a routine of praying, reading Scriptures and studying. “Having a routine, not wasting your day or spending your whole day watching TV or being sucked into the news cycle, using it instead as some sort of retreat, can be helpful.”

It’s important to think of more than oneself — the good of others, a concrete love of neighbor and country, obedient to the rules and regulations, he said. “It’s an opportunity to overcome our self-centeredness and to grow and be concerned about our neighbors and show consideration,” he said.

“These extreme measures now (in the United States) hopefully will help us avoid the tragic things they’re experiencing” in Italy, he said.

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