By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Drive-through opportunities to pick up parish bulletins and homily texts. Photos of parishioners taped to the pews. Telephone trees organized by parishioners to check up on the wellbeing of fellow parishioners. “Virtual” Masses, prayer services, Scripture study and messages of encouragement by clergy via electronic media. These examples scratch the surface of the creative and compassionate outreach that parishes in the Diocese of Davenport offer parishioners coping with social distancing and no public celebrations of liturgy because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This message appeared in a recent parish bulletin of Holy Family Parish in Davenport: “Blessings to everyone during this difficult time! It is very sad that we have to cancel Masses when our need is greatest. Our parish has put together a plan to maintain connection with parishioners until the crisis passes. At regular Saturday and Sunday Mass times, we will offer a ‘drive-thru’ opportunity. While you remain in your car, volunteers will be in the parking lot to hand out a bulletin, a copy of the sermon, and a prayer service for use at home. Volunteers will also accept your offering, take down prayer requests, and find out if you have any other needs the parish can help with. Father (Paul Appel, the pastor) will be available for confession in the elevator entrance at the usual times. Please let us know if you have any questions. On Thursdays, the church will be open for private prayer (NOT adoration) from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.”
Photographs of parishioners from the cluster parishes of St. Mary-Riverside, Holy TrinityRichmond, and St. JosephWellman, adorn the pews at St. Mary’s Church where the pastor, Father Bill Roush, celebrates Mass without parishioners physically present during the coronavirus crisis.
Father Roush said Deacon Derick Cranston, the cluster parishes’ pastoral associate and faith formation director, suggested the photo idea after seeing it on a Facebook post. The pastor said he thought it would be a good idea to “have faces to look at while we’re saying Mass in solidarity.” Deacon Cranston sent an email to parishioners, nearly 100 of whom submitted photos of themselves or family.
“It gives us some faces to look at and our parishioners to pray for throughout this time,” Father Roush said. Daily, he prays the rosary at 3 p.m. for all the coronavirus victims and those in isolation. He and Deacon Cranston plan to rotate the photographs among the three parishes.
Some other parishes in the diocese adopted the “faces” idea, as did the Newman Catholic Student Center on the University of Iowa campus.
An act of love
Videotaping the first Mass for parishioners to view “was the next best thing — spiritual Communion — it makes us realize we are connected in spirit.” Personally, the rapid change that the pandemic causes to life’s routines has been hard to absorb, Father Roush said. The hardest thing for him is telling grieving families that they have to limit the number of family members and friends at a funeral service to comply with current social distancing restrictions to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have to recognize this is an act of love. We’re still in love with all of those people … we just have to have our connection spiritually rather than physically,” Father Roush said. “I went to a funeral home and met with a family and …. I’m a hugger and a hand-shaker and that’s the most difficult thing for me. You just don’t feel like you’re there for the people when actually I’m praying for the people more than I ever have.” He has been making a lot more phone calls to families to reach out, “to let them know they are still in my thoughts and prayers.”
Father Guillermo Trevino Jr. said he has been busier than ever responding to people who reach out to him by phone and social media, for example. They are scared and want reassurance, said Father Trevino, parochial vicar for St. Patrick Parish-Iowa City, St. Bernadette ParishWest Branch and St. Joseph Parish-West Liberty.
“We had the good fortune (coincidence) of asking parishioners just two weeks ago to download a parish app that has daily Scriptures, links to our bulletin and daily reflections, and the ability to send announcements to parishioners on their mobile phones,” said Father Chuck Adam, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville. “For example, when Pope Francis invited Catholics all over the world to join him in prayer at 3 p.m. on Friday (March 19), we sent an announcement on the parish app asking parishioners to join him.”
Parishioners of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf received an email message from their pastor, Father Jim Vrba. “We also recorded a brief video message by Father Vrba and put it on our website. We provided eucharistic adoration, a rosary, and a talk/message on ‘Living in Fear and Anxiety’ via
Facebook Live,” said Mitchell Narvasa, pastoral associate for evangelization. “With other parishes, we were going to have Theology on Tap, but we changed it to ‘Theology on Tap: Home Brew’ and held our usual discussion and talk online as well for the Young Adults (which ended up being open to everyone!)”
In addition, some of the liturgical ministry leaders at St. John Vianney send weekly emails of encouragement and inspiration to their liturgy ministers. The director of religious education is also in contact with families with resources for them and their children.
In an e-blast, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish – Bettendorf asked, “What does it mean to be Church when we can’t be in the same building? That’s the question a lot of us are asking. We’re in uncharted waters, but we’re in this together. One thing we know — the Body of Christ is bigger than any building. We’re not going to let the fact that we can’t gather together physically keep us from gathering as the Body.”
Pastor Father Jason Crossen addressed Lourdes’ parishioners March 20 on a Facebook Live event to explain how the parish is responding. The parish has created a new electronic page to keep track of all the ways it is working to be church in these difficult times. Livestreamed Masses and other spiritual events were also planned, beginning March 22. They can be viewed later. A number of parishes, including Lourdes, open the church building for private prayer and offer the sacrament of reconciliation. No more than 10 persons may be present in the church at one time, per diocesan protocol to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Know your audience
Aside from opportunities to “visit” the parish and their pastor, Father Jake Greiner, via electronic media, some parishioners at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport pray the rosary as a group of fewer than 10 people at the church. One of the rosary-praying participants said other opportunities to pray the rosary are planned via video chats.
Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire organized a telephone tree to connect with parishioners. While the “tree” volunteers hope to reach out to all parishioners, parish nurse Jennifer Hildebrand said the effort especially benefits “our older parishioners who may not be connected to social media like the younger people. It’s important to reach out to all of them, to let them know we haven’t forgotten them and to keep them updated about what is happening in this rapidly changing situation.”