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COVID-19: A pastor’s perspective: This latest challenge

Freedoms, daily routines disrupted, but technology can connect the Church and priests

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What a tsunami! First, it was the grand jury report in Pennsylvania and the fallout therein. Living at ground zero in the state made this issue all the more painful and real. Second, it was the ongoing diocesan initiative to make the Church more alive by merging parishes and regionalizing schools. Because we Catholics can be territorial at times this has been a very challenging undertaking for anyone serving in parish life. Third, it was a veiled security threat in the summer of 2019 to one of our two parish festivals that necessitated the cancellation of the festival. Now, it is the dangerous and deadly novel coronavirus pandemic, which has afflicted and claimed thousands. This worldwide crisis has resulted in the cancellation of public Masses, safe distancing and a whole different way of life.

As a priest and pastor, it is hard to put into words this latest challenge, which truly puts all other challenges into perspective. Even the things that so many of us have worried about and have kept us awake in our personal lives now pale in comparison to what we are facing at this moment in history. Think about it! This is unchartered territory for all of us as we face great change and loss to our American way of living.

The first thing that is different is our freedoms. We are no longer free to go where we want to go and do what we want to do. And even if we could go where we want to go, where would we go? Virtually everything is canceled and closed. Even our freedom to worship together has been taken away.

Another change in our lifestyle is the loss of our daily routine. I think we are all being plunged out of our comfort zones. I have a priest friend who often says, “If you keep the schedule, the schedule will keep you.” Right now there is no schedule. What is more, the one thing so many of us priests look for, our day off, is gone. How could we ever leave our community at this time? Why would we want to go home and transmit or carry the virus to parents or siblings?

The one thing I miss the most right now is the People of God. I have always believed in the ministry of presence. You know, being present at all gatherings even if it is just a walkthrough. Some of the best moments occur after holy Mass greeting the people. While we can still celebrate holy Mass, there are no people to greet. It truly is so sad.

One saving grace for me is my two parochial vicars, Ben and Tom. They were ordained together by our bishop on June 24, 2017. They have been living with the same tsunami. But they are rising to the occasion. Thanks to the magic of technology, we have been meeting our people on Youtube and our website with daily Mass, Rosary and Stations of the Cross. It is not the same; however, it is a way to continue being the Church and to grow in our fraternity. The tsunami continues, but, thank God, I have such loving and committed brothers who give me hope in such a dark time. Right now they are bringing the Church to me.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

 
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