Covid CathoCatholic Masses with the faithful are suspended, Holy Water is removed at the entrance to churches, the 'flock' is ill and dispersed. Nevertheless, the Church shows its resilience, and therefore, all is not lost. Catholic communities around the world respond to the challenge of the Covid-19 crisis by finding new ways to practice their faith. But how can the faithful discover a (new) meaning in these difficult times?

Like in all aspects of life, Covid 19 has not spared the Church. It has put an end to many Church activities. The confinement deprives the faithful of physically partaking in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. Many baptisms and marriages are forced to be postponed. The deprivation was more painful at the Holy Week, a period punctuated by services that enable the faithful to be as close as possible with Christ before Easter.

Since March 15, Catholics in France no longer attend Mass physically, but in front of their screens. Parishes in various dioceses are obliged to find new ways to remain in contact with their faithful. Some do this through radio transmissions or television and others have opted for social media.

The Church in the living room

The faithful too are forced to adopt new ways of living their faith during confinement. "Until Sunday we organized our new life, working online via video conference. We also gladly find time to pray several times in a day, alone, as a couple and as a family. However, prayer as a couple and as a family was previously complicated because our different schedules were dense and not always compatible," said Laurence and Pierre parishioners of Our Lady of the Assumption in Vaulx-en-Velin. Like many other Christians, "we started to follow Mass on the internet every day through an online application 'Pray in Church.' On those days we enjoyed following Mass together side by side: which given our parish commitments is not common,” they added.

Different religious congregations continue to have daily Masses. Not spared by the lockdown, they have had to adjust. "In the community, we participate together in televised Masses every day at 8 a.m. and continued to pray every morning and night. It enlightens us and helps us pray a little longer. I personally find it useful,” said Perla, a Pauline nun.

A time for spiritual growth

Covid cath 2The image of the pope walking alone to reach the church of San Marcello in the center of Rome was unprecedented has left its mark on many people’s minds. Two weeks later, he prayed, alone again, in the middle of an empty St. Peter's Square, in the middle of the weekend of Easter. Never seen before! The same goes for the blessing of Urbi and Orbi for Easter.

This lockdown is lived as a time to deepen one's personal prayer and to experience it as a family. Nicole and Bruno, very committed Christians, continue to nurture their faith "through services, praying the rosary and liturgical celebrations on television. But what a sadness to see empty churches or, for example, the celebrations of the Holy Father "alone" without community and communion," they thought.

Some parishes have reported an increase in the number of people participating in the (virtual) Mass, with some viewers returning to Mass after long absences.

It can be argued that participation in Mass or a liturgical celebration on television or on the Internet is not the same as physically going to church, but "these masses seem to us well prepared and animated with great solemnity and delicacy. Homilies often ignite discussions between us as a couple and in the family," Laurence and Pierre admitted.

However, this is working for those who have a stable internet connection. Augustine, a young woman who lives alone, notes that "on some occasions, I have had difficulties with internet connection, which meant that some celebrations were not very fluid. Nevertheless, I tried as best as I could to prepare myself as if I were going to church to live the celebration in the best way possible and to enter into communion with the celebrants."

Charitable acts

In addition to participating in television or Internet liturgical services, the faithful also engages in other daily activities that help them live their Christian faith. Activities that they would not have thought of or to which they would not have devoted enough time. "We take much more time for our family, loved ones, friends, and even people we lost sight of over the phone, WhatsApp and the internet,” Nicole and Bruno explained. "We spend a lot of time "communicating" including with our neighbors in interposed balconies in the evening at the time of applause for the medical personnel and caregivers," they added.

Laurence is the parish secretary, and she is able to continue working from home, like many others, "I spend time in contact with the priest and the parishioners. With Father Laurence's agreement, I maintain the link with all. I do this with the internet by sending an email every day to everyone that helps to pray, meditate, or even smile. I also phone those who do not have a computer or just are not comfortable with it. The first week, with the person in charge of solidarity we made sure we sheltered as many people as possible. We also make sure that everyone has food (fresh fruits and vegetables),” she said.

Priests are also directly involved. They too adapt to the 'new normal'." Father Laurent is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Assumption in Vaulx-en-Velin. Like many other priests, he celebrated Easter without the faithful physically present. "I celebrated it as simply as possible. I sent a message to all my parishioners to wish them a happy Easter and to encourage them. I watched the pope's Mass on television. But in the afternoon, I felt the deepest need to say a mass myself, what filled me with Joy," he concluded.

Since the onset of coronavirus in China last December, the disease has infected more than 3.7 million people worldwide, killing nearly 260,000 Covid-19 patients. 180 countries are affected by this health crisis and more than half of humanity is called to stay at home. In France, the latest figure provided by health authorities regarding the COVID-19 pandemic is 132 967 cases of infection and 25 531deaths including 42 priests and religious. It is important to bear in mind that these numbers keep changing.

                                                                                                                                                              Dominic Wabwireh