BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
On March 16, 2020, Bishop William F. Medley made an announcement that was similar to statements released by bishops all across the United States, but that did not make it any easier: he was calling for the diocese-wide discontinuation of all public Masses.
This decision was not made lightly, but in response to the situation surrounding the growing pandemic of the Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19. The bishop wrote that “I could never have imagined a day where as a bishop and pastor I would ask people not to attend Mass. But this is the sacrifice to which we are called.”
And on March 24, during press week for this issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic, the evolving COVID-19 situation led the bishop to call for the suspension to continue “until further notice.” This includes the celebration of Holy Week, the Triduum and Easter, as priests will privately celebrate these liturgies.
But even with public Masses suspended, pastors and parish leaders remain committed to serving their flocks to the best of their abilities. This often includes leaving churches open daily for private prayer (keeping in mind the CDC’s directives of no more than 10 people in one place and the six-foot social distancing rule) and live-streaming (via Facebook, Vimeo and other platforms) the priests’ private celebration of the Mass.
Fr. Julio Barrera, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Morgantown and Holy Redeemer Parish in Beaver Dam, posted a video in English and a video in Spanish on Holy Trinity’s Facebook page on March 21, offering information and encouragement to his two parishes.
Besides inviting parishioners to watch his live-streamed Masses, he also suggested that they create a special place for prayer in their homes.
“Let’s keep praying for one another,” said Fr. Barrera, who on Sundays has been live-streaming both a Mass in English and a Mass in Spanish. “I know this can be difficult for us to be isolated. We are physically separated – but we are not separated spiritually.”
Fr. Randy Howard at St. Agnes in Uniontown has begun a practice of praying and live-streaming the rosary at 3 p.m. In one video, posted on March 22, he explained why he keeps the camera focused on his statue of Our Lady and a vase of flowers, rather than on himself.
“A sister of mine suggested that rather than focusing the camera on myself, instead perhaps having a statue of Mary, it might be easier to meditate that way,” he said in the video.
Other parishes, such as Christ the King in Madisonville, have also been offering a daily live-streamed rosary. Christ the King’s pastor, Fr. Carl McCarthy, shares a short reflection at the end of each rosary.
“I don’t know if you realize it or not, but the first day of spring was this past Thursday,” said Fr. McCarthy in his March 23 rosary video. “With everything going on in our world with this health crisis, we could have easily missed that spring has come.”
Fr. McCarthy urged viewers to do some self-care in the form of walking outside, if possible: “We need to remember to take care of ourselves and look to the creation that God has given us.”
Parishes’ various ministries have been striving to serve their communities during this time.
While they live-streamed pastor Fr. John Vaughan’s private celebration of Sunday Mass on March 22, Immaculate Parish in Owensboro realized parishioners might miss the music that went with the Mass. So music director, Matt Gray, uploaded a YouTube video of himself playing the Mass pieces on the piano.
“In this absence of the Mass, especially on the weekend, I just thought I’d take a few moments here and go through the music that was selected for this Sunday that you would have heard if you were here,” said Gray.
And even though ordinary parish life has changed, parishioners continue offering their services to help their communities where they can.
On March 23, the Facebook page for St. Thomas More Parish’s Family Life Ministry posted that they would be starting up a “phone ministry” to “call and check in on our most vulnerable parishioners.”
“Please let us know if you are willing to be a part of this ministry!” read the post.
When St. Joseph Parish in Leitchfield live-streamed their March 22 Sunday Mass, parishioner Tommy Higdon commented that he had collected bulk items to donate to a mission helping victims of the tornado that hit Tennessee in early March. After being told that the mission was overwhelmed with donations, Higdon wanted to let the vulnerable know they could turn to him for some supplies.
“Free to the elderly and the needy,” wrote Higdon. “Just reach out to me.”
Keeping in mind the pastoral needs of the faithful, multiple parishes have been offering creative ways for parishioners to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Sacred Heart Parish in Russellville posted on their Facebook page that pastor, Fr. Ken Mikulcik, would be hearing confessions on March 19 – but “be sure to practice social distancing with no more than 10 people in the church at one time.”
Fr. John Thomas, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Bowling Green, also found a solution to hearing confessions while remaining physically distant and safe.
Advertising “Outdoor Sacrament of Reconciliation” on his Facebook page on March 23, Fr. Thomas asked that the faithful remain in their cars in the parking lot, within an area marked with traffic cones, as he went from car to car to hear confessions – while keeping a safe distance.
Parish youth ministry, too, has been impacted by COVID-19 situation, but youth ministers are up for the challenge.
Crissy Stevenson, youth minister at St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro, told the WKC that she encouraged her youth to participate in the “Biggest Youth Night Ever” on March 22, hosted digitally by Project YM, a national youth ministry resource organization.
“Project YM provided leader information with discussion questions, so when it was over, we were able to talk about the experience, check-in with one another, and pray together,” said Stevenson on March 24, admitting that this has been a learning curve.
“I’m trying to stick to virtual gatherings over Zoom a couple of nights a week, sending home post cards, and regular text message check-ins,” she added.
In the evening of Sunday, March 22, the youth ministry of St. Pius X Parish in Owensboro hosted an Instagram Live praise and worship session, which youth minister Matt Knight said went well.
“Our plan is to continue doing it throughout this time,” said Knight on March 24. “We had about 20 youth and 41 total people on the live stream. Parents are very thankful as they are able to show with their whole family watching.”
Note: How is your parish continuing to minister during this situation? The WKC would love to hear from you. Please send an email to [email protected] with your name, parish, and description of what your parish has been doing.
Editor’s note: After this story went to press on March 27, an update was issued from Bishop Medley and the diocese’s Office of Worship on April 3, stating that in-person confessions would now be discouraged for the time being, due to the concern of spreading COVID-19. Click here for more information from the Office of Worship.
Originally printed in the April 2020 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2020 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic