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Tobin: Suggestions for 'spiritual closeness in time of social distancing'

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Archdiocese of Newark

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This is one of a series of pastoral and personal reflections on living in this time of pandemic. It was written by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, and posted April 1 on the archdiocesan website, https://www.rcan.org, and titled "Spiritual Closeness in a Time of Social Distancing: Seven Suggestions." This is part of an occasional series of reflections CNS will have from some U.S. Catholic bishops.

As Christians, we encounter Jesus in his people -- our families and friends, our neighbors and fellow parishioners, our co-workers and schoolmates, even people we don't know personally (strangers) who we come in contact with as we go about our daily lives. Jesus tells us that we find him in the "least of these" brothers and sisters (cf. Mt 25: 31-46), so being close to them means being close to him.

During this unprecedented time of pandemic, we need to be especially concerned about those who are experiencing intense anxiety, feel lonely and abandoned, and who really count on public worship for their own support. We also should be concerned about how the spiritual lives of our people will be impacted by the drastic changes we are all experiencing for the first time in our lives. The Eucharist and the celebration of the Mass are so central to our church that their absence is really felt deeply by us.

"Social distancing" is necessary for the common good, but we need to counter this with a dramatic increase in what Pope Francis calls "spiritual closeness." How can we stay close to Jesus, and all our sisters and brothers, at a time when concern for them demands that we keep our distance? How can we remain spiritually close at the same time that we practice social distancing?

Here are some simple suggestions for staying close spiritually while maintaining a safe and respectful social distance:

1. Begin each day with prayer. Ask Jesus to stay close to you and to all your family and friends. Pray for the health and well-being of everyone you associate with, and of all God's people throughout the world.

2. Express your love and concern for the people you live with -- your spouse, children, other relatives or friends. Comfort and encourage them when they are frightened and feeling closed-in or helpless.

3. Reach out to other family members, friends and colleagues by telephone, texting, email and other forms of social media. Let them know that you are close to them and that you share their experiences and anxiety.

4. Attend Mass and other prayers and devotions virtually. Many opportunities are available each day on television, radio and online. Participation in the life of the Church can help us feel more closely connected with God and with each other. Make a spiritual communion (see below).

5. As you go about your daily business -- working remotely, studying at home, doing spring cleaning, caring for children or family members, preparing dinner, doing the laundry, and more -- look for opportunities to offer up your activities to God in gratitude for his closeness to you.

6. To the extent that you can, share your financial resources with those in need. Online giving is available for most religious, educational and charitable organizations, but if that's not an option for you, you can write a check and mail it, or set aside some cash to give to someone in need once the current stay at home order has been lifted.

7. Be patient with yourself and those you love. This is a strange and difficult time for all of us. Frustration and anger are understandable reactions. We need to help each other remain calm and trust in the healing power of Jesus who is close to us -- now and always.

Prayer for Spiritual Communion: "Dear Jesus, I believe that you are truly present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. I love you above all things, and I desire to receive your body and blood. Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. Stay close to me, Jesus, so that I may be close to all our sisters and brothers, especially those who are most in need of your loving care. Amen."

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Disappointed, but hopeful, thousands unable to join church this Easter

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mihoko Owada, Catholic

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The disappointment of not being able to celebrate Easter Mass in churches across the country this year might be most strongly felt by the thousands who planned to join the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.

The vigil Mass -- which starts in darkness and is brightened by an outdoor flame that spreads to the Paschal candle and individual candles -- is rich in liturgical symbols about darkness and light, doubt and faith, old life and new. It highlights not only the resurrection of Jesus but the new life experienced by believers that is visually demonstrated by the baptism of those joining the church.

The Mass includes the baptism, confirmation and first Communion of catechumens joining the church after preparing for several months through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA. Candidates, those who are already baptized, receive confirmation and first Communion at the vigil to enter full communion with the church.

This year, amid the coronavirus pandemic and state restrictions to curb the disease's spread that prevent gatherings of 10 or more, Catholic churches in the United States have been closed for public Masses. Many parishes and dioceses are livestreaming their services with simply the celebrant and maybe a lector or cantor present.

As this has been the new normal for parishes across the country, RCIA coordinators and diocesan leaders realized in late March that they would very likely have to postpone rites of initiation. Many started setting their sights on Pentecost, which is May 31, but they also have said no date can be set, obviously, because no one can predict when churches will reopen.

"It is very disappointing to be in this process for a long time and have the finish line in sight, and now the line has been moved," said Sara Blauvelt, director of catechesis for the Archdiocese of Washington. "It's hard not to be discouraged, but we have to remember there is great hope in Christ, and that is what we have to cling to."

As far as a rescheduled date, she too is hoping for Pentecost but said: "We can't promise anything at this point other than to promise they will receive the sacraments when it is the right time. She said this is a sad time for the church, but she also believes "new life will come after the pandemic, and new life in Christ will come for our candidates and elect."

That's the hope of Dustin Pollock, who planned to join the church and receive sacraments of initiation at St. Rose of Lima Church in Layton, Utah, this Easter.

Pollock's parents were baptized in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but they did not practice the faith, and he grew up without any religion. He found the Catholic Church through his second wife, who is a practicing Catholic. After attending Mass with her, initially so she wouldn't have to go alone, the faith began to mean something to him personally and he started the RCIA process.

In recent weeks, he and his wife have been watching Masses online, but they are looking forward to the day when they can go to Mass in person and receive the Eucharist together. For now, Pollack said he is determined to wait and "stay in touch with the Lord through prayer and meditation, but it's hard."

As a service provider at a tire store, Pollock is performing essential work and as such still goes in every day and interacts with many people. Not knowing if he is unintentionally being exposed to the virus is difficult.

"Silently, in my head, I am constantly praying," he said. "It's so stressful every day; if I didn't have my faith, I would be going crazy. I couldn't make it through without it."

"I definitely look forward to moving forward in this. I will forever be in this faith," he added.

And in this waiting period, candidates and catechumens have been encouraged to keep up with the faith they've been studying and discussing for weeks via Zoom conference calls and Google hangouts.

Michael Bayer, director of evangelization and adult formation at St. Clement Catholic Church in Chicago, said that since the parish has finished all of its RCIA formation classes, program leaders are encouraging participants to become involved in broader parish ministries, even though for now these ministries are all virtual, such as couples groups or weekly Bible studies.

He said the RCIA participants are very understanding. "Several work in health care, including a couple of nurses, so people certainly comprehend the gravity of what we are facing with the coronavirus threat."

Sister Rosanne Belpedio, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who is director of the Office of Worship for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said the pandemic similarly challenges the faith of those in the church and those waiting to be a part of it.

She has encouraged RCIA directors not to lose momentum and to urge participants to reflect on what they are going through by asking: "Where is God acting in my life in this unusual circumstance?" and also "What do these times require of me?"

"We don't know what life will be like" after restrictions are lifted, she said, but she also said the church can't lose sight of this opportunity to deepen faith and to bring the community together, reminding everyone of their obligations to one another.

The faith lessons learned now will certainly carry over for those who have started their journey to the church in this unexpected year. In the Los Angeles Archdiocese alone, there are more than 1,600 catechumens and nearly the same number of candidates.

Kristin Bird, one of the directors of the RCIA program at Most Blessed Sacrament in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, this year, said participants are understandably disappointed about the postponement, but one candidate said he felt "a special bond with the rest of the parish that he didn't necessarily feel before" mainly because other parishioners are waiting to receive the Eucharist just as he is.

Bird, who has been filling in for other RCIA leaders, is the executive director of Burning Hearts Disciples, a Wisconsin-based apostolate to help Catholics renew and deepen their faith.

She said the RCIA team intends to keep meeting with those in the program through video conferences to continue to walk with them, virtually, on their journey. Now, many of the conversations have been about handling the current pandemic which has also led to conversations about the sacraments, prayer, the nature of suffering that they might not have had otherwise.

"Their closeness as a group and their focus on growing closer to Jesus has given them a solid foundation that provides stability even as they have to constantly adjust their expectations," she added.

In the meantime, Blauvelt, from the Washington Archdiocese, said the whole church should be disappointed about the delay in welcoming new members.

"Every parish is enriched by new family members. Every time someone joins the faith -- comes to Christ in the Catholic Church -- we are richer. So, we are impoverished as we wait with them," she said, adding: "We are serious about welcoming them."

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Contributing to this story was Richard Szczepanowski, managing editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington, and Linda Petersen, a reporter for the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

USCCB Administrative Committee cancels U.S. bishops' June assembly

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has canceled the U.S. bishops' spring general assembly that was planned for June 10-12 in Detroit.

"Given the current situation with the coronavirus that has been classified by the World Health Organization as a pandemic, the Administrative Committee of the USCCB voted earlier this week to cancel the June assembly," said a USCCB news release issued the afternoon of April 8.

This marks the first cancellation of a plenary assembly in the conference's history.

"The Administrative Committee made this very difficult decision with consideration of multiple factors, but most importantly the health, well-being and safety of the hundreds of bishops, staff, observers, guests, affiliates, volunteers, contractors and media involved with the general meetings, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB, said in announcing the decision.

"Additionally, even if the numerous temporary restrictions on public gatherings resulting from conditions associated with COVID-19 are lessened by June," he said, "the priority for the physical and pastoral presence of the bishop in his See will be acute to tend to the faithful."

The USCCB bylaws state that a plenary assembly is to be convened at least once a year. As such, the November 2020 general assembly meeting in Baltimore -- scheduled for Nov. 16-19 -- would fulfill this requirement.

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Closed churches: Archbishop wants people to 'celebrate many more Easters'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Christopher Gunty

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Acknowledging the pain that the world is experiencing as the novel coronavirus claims thousands of lives and disrupts everyday routines, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said he wants nothing more than to open wide the doors to churches, but such a step is impossible given "the massive public health threat we are facing."

"We have to respond reasonably to this, but at the same time recognize that the moment will come when we will be able to get back together and to celebrate together. I look forward to that day," he said.

The archbishop met with members of the Baltimore media April 7 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary -- with appropriate social distancing -- to discuss Holy Week, Easter and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on parishes.

He said most of the correspondence he has received about the closing of churches has been supportive, with people recognizing the archdiocese is conforming to the letter and the spirit of the law.

"The spirit of the law is to protect people. We want to celebrate this Easter, but I want as many people as possible to celebrate many more Easters. And so, for that reason, we have taken these extraordinary steps," he said, to suspend all public Masses during the holiest week in the church's calendar.

Masses throughout the archdiocese are being celebrated by parish priests without the presence of the faithful.

Archbishop Lori said some people always will disagree with the church closings, and he respects their opinion because it represents "a hunger for the sacraments, a hunger to worship, a hunger to listen to the word of God with the community of faith, a hunger to celebrate the great events of our salvation."

He said he hopes that as Catholics go through such an extraordinary time, they will develop a greater appreciation for the value, meaning and importance of worshipping together in church.

Parishes will continue to follow deep-cleaning guidelines recommended by public health professionals so that when churches reopen, they will be as safe as possible, he added.

As the virus peaks and incidences of COVID-19 decline, restrictions on public gatherings may loosen.

"We'll have to see what guidance we get because we want to be a good citizen. We want to keep people safe. And we want to make sure that when we do reopen, it is perfectly safe for everybody to be together," Archbishop Lori said.

He praised the work of priests who have been livestreaming Masses and finding other ways to reach out to their flocks, including sending messages of support and hope.

In addition to technological options, the archbishop said some parishes have used phone trees to allow parishioners to connect with each other. Putting together a group of volunteers to call parishioners can encourage personal contact even when people cannot be together physically.

"Saying quite simply, 'How are you? What do you need? If you live alone, are you doing all right?' If you're elderly, if you're vulnerable, that means so much to people," he said.

Acknowledging this Lent has been very trying, Archbishop Lori said God can help make sense of events in life, even the ones where through which people struggle. "God will pull good out of evil," he said. "God pulls joy out of suffering. God pulls life out of death.

"That's really what we celebrate in Holy Week, where you see the Lord on the cross and you think it's an execution, it's a defeat, it's death. But really, that was the door opening to new life and to grace and to goodness and to sanctity and to generosity of spirit," he explained.

The archbishop noted the pandemic has led to a difficult financial time for the archdiocese and its parishes, but that online giving and other relief packages, including loans available from the Knights of Columbus and the U.S. Small Business Administration, will help. "A lot of people have been stepping up to the plate very generously and graciously," he said.

The archdiocese also put together a relief package for parishes and schools worth about $7 million by deferring some of the payments normally due for retirement and health costs.

Asked whether some parishes might not be able to survive the downturn, the archbishop said he doesn't want any parish to close by default.

"We're doing our level best to sustain our parishes," he said.

Archbishop Lori will celebrate Holy Week and Easter services at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, which will be livestreamed. The cathedral's website is https://www.cathedralofmary.org. The online broadcasts since churches were closed have attracted large numbers of viewers.

"Our churches are usually very packed on Sunday, but through livestreaming, I've discovered I'm actually reaching a lot more people than I usually do on a Sunday," he said. On several occasions, more devices were tuned into the Sunday Mass at the cathedral than there are seats in the church, one of the largest in the archdiocese.

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Gunty is associate publisher/editor of Catholic Review Media, the media arm of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

'Busier now' than before pandemic, says head of disabilities group

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Charleen Katra

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Much has been made of how businesses are grinding to a halt in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Not so with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, according to its new executive director, Charleen Katra. "If anything, I think it's busier now," she told Catholic News Service in an April 7 phone interview.

In contrast to the stilled traffic across much of the nation and world, internet traffic is up considerably. That is reflected in the NCPD's website, www.ncpd.org, which offers daily COVID-19 updates and an NCPD statement on the rights of persons with disabilities to medical treatment during the pandemic.

"The last two to three weeks intensified our response to the pandemic, the crisis, under our COVID-19 resource section of our website," Katra said.

Not everything on the NCPD website is from the organization's own members and staff. There are lots of links. NCPD "works hard to be a clearinghouse for other good information out there -- on many topics," Katra said.

One of the newest is educational in scope. "Some of the major publishers have given anything and everything they have for this community of diverse learning. They're giving it away right now for several months at least," Katra told CNS. "They've said, 'Here's the password, use it for free right now.'"

Katra has a focus on autism and mental health issues, saying both have been on the rise. "We almost can't provide resources and training fast enough for our church," she said. "We have a gentlemen on our board who has six children. All six are on the autism spectrum. That's amazing to me."

She added. "It's amazing to see what some families' family life is like right now. ... They have other diagnoses, too, on top of (autism) ... as if that wasn't enough. Often times, depression over an illness, anxiety, it's really monumental."

Katra said, "I think it's sometimes deeper and stronger than they might even imagine. And right now, with the pandemic, I'm really concerned, with people struggling with anxiety and depression. Let's say you have a brain without that little toggle that tells you to stay rational and calm. What do you do now?"

The pandemic can provide "teachable moments that highlight in positive ways the gifts of someone with disabilities," Katra said. "It's more what are our different gifts ... even right now."

She added, "Someone with Down syndrome might have something someone needs to make them laugh, and that that will help them feel joyful an peaceful in stressful times."

Katra took over as NCPD's executive director Dec. 1, following the retirement of Janice Benton. She had spent the previous 20 years working for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston as associate director of evangelization and catechesis, with ministry to persons with disabilities being a core part of her responsibilities. "NCPD was a tremendous resource to me at the local level," Katra recalled.

"I heartily enjoyed working for the archdiocese. I thought our ministry was the best ministry of the whole archdiocese," she said. "I truly was not looking for anything." She was aware of the looming  NCPD vacancy, since she had served on the organization's board the past couple of years. "I wasn't really even putting my name in the hat, so to speak. But someone recommended me," which obligated the search committee to assess Katra's interest, a process Katra said she likewise felt obligated to respect.

"It was a leap of faith at my stage in life," she said, adding she told her former boss, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, "I heard God calling." That itself was not enough. "I talked to my husband, prayer, of course, God," Katra noted. "That's how it started, and within four months I was here. ... I just seemed a little open to God's will."

She figures about 25% of the U.S. population "has some diagnosis of disability." That leaves "the other population, 75%. What are we doing to educate them? That's where we can turn some corners."

Katra said she takes to heart something St. John Paul II once said, that "people with disabilities are prophets of how we will all become if we live a long life."

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Dolan: 'We are confident the Resurrection of Easter is unstoppable'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By

This is one of a series of pastoral and personal reflections on living in this time of pandemic. It was written by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York as his weekly column published April 2 in Catholic New York, the archdiocesan newspaper, with the headline "The Resurrection of Easter Is unstoppable." This is part of an occasional series of reflections CNS will have from some U.S. Catholic bishops.

It's a tough time, my good people, a "built-in" Holy Week, as all of us are close to Jesus in his hour of agony and death on the cross.

Those suffering from the virus have a share in our Lord's passion, as do their families so worried. Our courageous and indefatigable health care providers sense the discouragement and weariness of our Savior carrying his cross. All of us, apprehensive about the future, reminded of our vulnerability, cloistered from family, friends, neighbors and parishes, missing Mass and the sacraments a lot, are making our own stations of the cross.

Yet, on the way, like that first Good Friday in Jerusalem, we meet heroes. Think of Veronica, who soothed the bruised, bleeding face of Jesus; now imagine those caregivers easing a patient with fever, coughing, aches and pains, a sore throat, who worries about it getting worse.

Now consider Simon of Cyrene, who helped an exhausted Jesus carry his cross up the rocky hill to Calvary; now focus on essential workers -- police officers, firefighters, rescue workers, EMTs, chaplains, sanitation workers, grocery and food delivery folks, our utility personnel -- who take a risk these days staying on duty to help us all get through this.

Now recall Mary, His sorrowful mother; St. John, His beloved disciple; and the other holy women, keeping the dying Jesus company, consoling and encouraging Him; now switch to our parents, family members, teachers, volunteers and neighbors, checking in on the fragile and elderly, leaving meals on porches, getting medicine when they need it.

And what about the centurion, so moved by the sacrifice, love, patience and mercy of this prisoner on the cross, who was led to confess, "Truly, this man was the Son of God!"; and now zero in on those recovering a sense of faith, a trust in prayer, a turning to God that may have gone dormant, now revived by these troubles.

Yes, as a Gospel during Holy Week somberly starts, "It was dark."

True, there is indeed darkness out there, as there was that afternoon of a Friday weirdly called "good" when the sun hid and the earth trembled.

Bring on Easter! Pardon the misquote of the song from "Mame," but "we need a little Easter, right this very moment!"

It will be a unique one for sure: We won't be able to dress in our finest and go to Mass; no big family dinners with ham or lamb; no visiting with aunts, uncles and grandparents.

Ah, but there's no eclipsing the triumph of Easter. "He is risen as He said."

"The strife is o'er, the battle done/Now is the Victor's triumph won."

No darkness is more pervasive than His light; no struggle is lost with Him as our victor; no death is permanent with Him as our life.

April 1 was the 43rd anniversary of my dad's sudden death at 51.

Rarely did he speak of his years in the Navy during World War II. He sure had the right to do so, as he was in the midst of the harrowing battles in the Pacific. Yes, he was there at Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Midway, Manila.

One paschal holiday when I was a boy he did speak of Easter Sunday in April 1945. On the USS Cleveland, his ship, there were wounded Marines. Among his fellow sailors there was trepidation galore as they kept lookout for kamikaze planes, and heard the news that fierce battles, maybe even an invasion of Japan, were ahead.

Yet, he told us, victory was in the air! They realized the "good guys" had the upper hand, that by next Easter they might be home, that their sacrifices were hardly wasted.

It was his most memorable Easter, Dad commented, and he would never forget the Filipino priest who came aboard for early morning Mass, who moved them all by thanking them for coming to the assistance of his homeland, and commented simply, "Good Friday is fading; Easter always wins!"

Seems this Holy Week that we're all locked for a while in a Holy Saturday posture; we trust the worst of Good Friday is over, and we are confident that the Resurrection of Easter is unstoppable.

A blessed Easter!

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

COVID-19 denies Eucharist to Catholics Holy Thursday, the day of its origin

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Holy See Pavilion Press Office

By Chaz Muth

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For most Catholics, Holy Thursday 2020 will be a Eucharist-free one.

It's one of the holiest days on the liturgical calendar, a day associated with the Last Supper, where Jesus instituted the holy Eucharist, turning the bread and wine into his real presence.

The coronavirus pandemic has closed churches to public gatherings globally, requiring the faithful to participate in Mass online or by watching television throughout the 2020 Holy Week and separating most Catholics from holy Communion.

Catholics have shared memes all over social media saying they have sacrificed more than they ever have throughout Lent 2020 amid the coronavirus, but the notion of going without the Eucharist on Holy Thursday seems particularly painful to many.

"I feel a little lost," said Sara Chambers, a parishioner at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Bloomington, Indiana, who has been participating in Holy Hours and Mass livestreamed by her pastor, Father Tom Kovatch.

Holy Week without the Eucharist feels unnatural, Chambers said, especially Holy Thursday, even though Pope Francis has reminded the faithful that "spiritual Communion" -- inviting Jesus into one's heart and soul when receiving the actual sacrament isn't possible -- is part of Catholic tradition.
 
In Gospel accounts of the Last Supper -- the final meal Jesus shared with his apostles in Jerusalem before his crucifixion -- he breaks the bread and hands pieces of it to his disciples saying "Eat, this is my body," and then passes a cup of wine and asks them to drink, "For this is my blood."

It's the basis for holy Communion in Catholicism and the church teaches that the host and wine consecrated by the priest is not just a symbol of Jesus, it becomes the real presence of Christ.

"In the bread and wine, used in the Mass, they are transubstantiated, we say, into the body and blood of Jesus Christ," said Father John Benson, parochial vicar of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. "He is present in a unique way in the Eucharist."

Sister Constance Veit, of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington, remembers one of the nuns at her school saying Jesus was waiting for her at Mass, providing her a way of relating to how the church teaches the Real Presence.

"The Real Presence is the real truth and the belief that Jesus dwells among us in the Blessed Sacrament, body, blood, soul and divinity," Sister Constance told Catholic News Service. "So, as Jesus promised, before he left this earth, after his resurrection, 'I am with you always.' The Real Presence is the realization of that promise."

On a day and in a week when countless Catholics around the world are yearning for holy Communion, yet are denied it, there are others who don't believe in transubstantiation.

A Pew Research Center survey released Aug. 5, 2019, found that nearly 70% of Catholics believe that the bread and wine used for Communion during Mass are "symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ," while about 30% believe that the bread and wine "actually become" Christ's body and blood.

Those statistics alarmed several U.S. bishops, who have said it shows a failure in catechesis.

Toni Guagenti of Virginia Beach, Virginia, is among the 70% of Catholics who believes the Eucharist is a symbol and not the real presence of Christ, but says that symbol remains a strong one for her even though she has fallen away from the church.

"It is a strong enough symbol that I will not take Communion when I do go to Mass for any reason," Guagenti said. "I feel I'm too far removed from it to take the body and blood of Christ."

"I would like to say the (Pew) study isn't accurate, but I'm afraid it may be," said Bishop Alfred A. Schlert of Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Though distressed by the study's findings, Bishop Schlert said he doesn't see this as a crisis of faith, but as a crisis of how church leaders are teaching the basic truths of Catholic beliefs.

It's not the first time in the history of Catholicism that a percentage of the faithful have doubted the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and Father Benson said church leaders became very precise about the teaching during the Middle Ages, when some theologians had their doubts.

For the current era, Father Benson believes if Catholics really immerse themselves in Mass, in eucharistic adoration, and get a true understanding of the life, teaching, passion and resurrection of Christ, the world will see a cultural shift in the belief of the Real Presence.

The current global separation from the Eucharist during this pandemic also may create a greater hunger for holy Communion, Father Kovatch said.

"I think that this separation is going to fire some people up," he said, "because now they have lost something they just took for granted. I think that we're going to have large numbers of people who are going to come back in great joy."

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Contributing to this report was Katie Rutter in Bloomington, Indiana.

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Follow Muth on Twitter: @chazmaniandevyl

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Catholic leaders urge Congress to address shortcomings in CARES Act

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joshua Lott, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

CLEVELAND (CNS) -- Testing and treatment for the novel coronavirus for all people regardless of their immigration status and assistance to church organizations with more than 500 workers are among crucial concerns Catholic leaders are urging Congress to address in a new federal emergency aid package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Providing internet access to low-income families so children can fully participate in online classes and greater economic relief for hospitals faced with having to shift resources to treat COVID-19 patients also are high priorities.

Officials at some of the country's largest Catholic organizations have welcomed the assistance provided under the massive $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. At the same time, however, the officials called for additional emergency relief and key policy changes so that they can better respond to the burgeoning health crisis.

Preliminary discussions on a new emergency aid package are taking place in anticipation of Congress reconvening April 20. But members' return to Washington is not guaranteed because the pandemic may be reaching its peak in some communities about that time.

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said some Catholic Charities agencies in COVID-19 hot spots such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and Los Angeles are facing unprecedented requests for assistance.

"As a charitable organization, we're facing much larger numbers, with staffs that are stretched thin, and with agencies that are going to be faced with furloughing or laying off staff because they don't have the resources," she said.

In some cities, Catholic Charities-connected food banks are running low on food, Sister Markham added, as client rolls grow.

Catholic Charities USA is seeking expansion of federal financial assistance to operations with more than 500 employees -- those that cannot secure a Small Business Administration loan under the Paycheck Protection Program outlined in the CARES Act. Smaller entities, including schools, parishes and some dioceses, can obtain a loan under the act. Those loans can be forgiven -- in essence becoming a grant -- if 75% of the funds received are used to keep workers on staff for up to eight weeks.

"Those (Catholic Charities) people are in dire straits," Sister Markham told Catholic News Service. "We're trying to do our best to bring that to the attention of folks on the Hill."

Other efforts are focusing on the needs of vulnerable immigrants, who were largely excluded in the CARES Act and two earlier aid bills. Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said she is urging members of Congress to correct the oversight.

The CARES Act included funding for testing and treatment, but not for people who are in the country without authorization, she said.

"First and foremost, we're seeking access to testing and COVID-19-related care for all, regardless of status. This is a moral issue. This isn't just a migration issue at this point. It's a public health issue," she said.

"We want people to be able to be tested. We want people to access care. We want people to have access to information about the risk (of COVID-19) in the language they are comfortable with," she added.

MRS and other agencies are bringing two other concerns to Congress:

-- The need for cash assistance for immigrant adults who do not have a Social Security number and have lost their jobs because of the spread of the virus but have children born in the United States.

-- Automatic extensions of permits for young adults in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and religious, agricultural and other workers holding special visas as the processing of applications by the U.S. Customs and Immigrations Services has slowed.

Meanwhile, hospitals continue to bear a large part of the economic cost of the pandemic. Lisa Smith, vice president for advocacy and public policy at the Catholic Health Association of the United States, said hospitals of all sizes are in "dire financial straits."

She called for quick dispersal of the $180 billion allocated in the CARES Act for health care spending, including $100 billion for hospitals and care providers that are the hardest hit in responding to the coronavirus.

Smith also said more funding was necessary to keep hospitals from having to drastically cut services in order to respond primarily to COVID-19.

CHA and other health care organizations also are seeking the reopening of the federal health insurance exchange system authorized under the Affordable Care Act so that uninsured people can enroll for coverage. Twenty-three states that did not expand Medicaid under the ACA have depended on the federal exchange allow residents to access health insurance.

"The administration has refused to do that," Smith said.

"It is critical the people have insurance coverage so people are not hesitant to get the care that they need. Hospitals don't have the resources to be carrying all of this load," she said.

At the National Catholic Educational Association, Presentation Sister Dale McDonald, director of public policy and educational research, is seeking funding for families to allow them to connect to the internet as schools have converted to online learning. She said an estimated 8 million to 12 million students have no internet connection at home.

She said it would cost about $200 per family to implement the plan.

"There was some money in the CARES Act to provide students with Chromebooks (a kind of stripped-down laptop computer) and allow them to work. But they still need the connectivity. The real concern is kids falling behind," she told CNS.

Sister McDonald also expressed concern that the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program is insufficient to meet the need of all small employers, including Catholic schools, parishes and other church entities. She suggested that funds secured through the loan program may be able to be used more readily for operations as well.

"For many of these schools operating on the margins, the future looks grim," Sister McDonald said. "There's just no money."

The USCCB Committee on Communications also supports expanding broadband access to households unable to afford internet service. James Rogers, chief communications officer at the bishops' conference, said ensuring that students "are not forgotten and left behind" is the committee's goal.

In addition, the committee also is considering offering support for a monthly benefit for families to allow them to connect to the internet. "This would be an attempt to be a bridge to normalcy," Rogers said.

Other policy matters being considered by the committee include:

-- A program to help religious publishers that have waived copyright and licensing fees for hymnals, songbooks and other worship aids that are being made available at no charge as people turned to the livestreaming of Masses and religious services.

-- Joining with newspaper publishing associations in a plan to boost revenues in the industry, which has seen advertising plummet in the weeks since stay-at-home orders were put in place. One measure would allocate funds to federal agencies to buy advertising in local newspapers -- including diocesan newspapers -- to promote public service messages that previously would have been provided at no charge.

"The committee would hate to see newspapers go away," Rogers said. "They are crucial. They provide lifesaving information today in a way like it never has been before."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

 

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Pope sets up new commission to study women deacons

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By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has established a new "Study Commission on the Female Diaconate" as a follow-up to a previous group that studied the history of women deacons in the New Testament and the early Christian communities.

Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi of Aquila will serve as president of the new commission and Father Denis Dupont-Fauville, an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, will serve as secretary, the Vatican said April 8.

Pope Francis named 10 other members of the commission -- five women and five men, including two permanent deacons from the United States: Deacon Dominic Cerrato, director of deacon formation for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois; and Deacon James Keating, director of theological formation at the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

The members also include: Catherine Brown Tkacz, a U.S.-born professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, who focuses on women in the Bible and in Christian tradition; Caroline Farey, a theologian and catechist educator who serves as "Diocesan Mission Catechist" for the Diocese of Shrewsbury, England; Barbara Hallensleben, a professor of theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and former member of the International Theological Commission; Rosalba Manes, a consecrated virgin and biblical scholar, who teaches at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University; and Anne-Marie Pelletier, a French biblical scholar who wrote the meditations for Pope Francis' 2017 celebration of the Via Crucis at Rome's Colosseum, writing her own set of Bible-based Stations of the Cross.

The three other men on the commission are all priests: Father Santiago del Cura Elena, a priest of the Archdiocese of Burgos, Spain, is professor and theologian who has studied and written extensively about priestly ordination; Father Manfred Hauke, a German-born professor at the Theological Faculty of Lugano, Switzerland, and author of a book examining the church's teaching on ordaining only men as priests; and Msgr. Angelo Lameri, a professor of liturgy and the sacraments at Rome's Pontifical Lateran University.

None of the 12 were part of the commission Pope Francis established in 2016 to study the historical facts about the women referred to as deaconesses in the New Testament and about the role of women deacons in the early church.

In October, the final document of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon asked that synod members, several of whom advocated for opening the diaconate to women, be able "to share our experiences and reflections" with members of the original commission.

In his post-vote talk to synod members, the pope promised that he would have the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "reconvene the commission or perhaps open it with new members."

But he told synod participants what he had told reporters the previous May, saying that the 12 theologians and historians on the original commission were unable to reach a full consensus on whether "there was an ordination with the same form and same aim as the ordination of men," but more study was needed.

Pope Francis originally had set up the commission at the request of the women's International Union of Superiors General, and he told the synod he gave the commission's report to the UISG, but he promised to "pick up the gauntlet" thrown down by women at the synod who asked for further discussion.

 

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Catholic schools must face pandemic challenges, Vatican office says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Utrecht Robin, ABACAPRESS.COM via Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the coronavirus pandemic has proven challenging for schools and parents in educating children, it is also a chance for Catholic schools to confront those challenges with courage, said the Congregation for Catholic Education.

"This crisis can become an opportunity for Catholic educational institutions across the world to strengthen their testimony to their identity and mission as a community of faith and charity," the congregation said in a statement released April 8.

In its statement, the congregation said the spread of the pandemic and the tragedy of those who are sick or dead from COVID-19 "is a time we were not prepared for" that has "overshadowed many of our certainties."

The abruptness of the pandemic, it added, did not allow time for schools to adopt "distance learning" methods.

Parents also "find themselves constrained to adapting to the need to assist their children studying at home," the congregation said. "Not all of them are equipped with the corresponding information technology tools, nor are they prepared to deal with the continuous presence of their children at home."

Nevertheless, Catholic schools "are called to respond to the most immediate exigencies" to ensure a regular conclusion to the academic year and "organize for the future to be able to discern any opportunities which this crisis could offer us."

"This pandemic has highlighted the fragility and the wounds of society: the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the prisoners, the social imbalances, as well as individual and national selfishness," the statement said.

Amid the interruption of ordinary life, all men and women have a duty "to consider more deeply the meaning of life, to finding ways to begin again to live once more, beginning from new foundations, knowing well it will never be the same as before."

Nevertheless, the Lenten season and the upcoming celebration of Easter serves of a reminder that life overcomes death, which "allows us to look to the future with confidence and solid hope."

The Congregation for Catholic Education said the celebration of Easter gives meaning to the current crisis and is an encouragement to "open our hearts and minds to God and to our brethren with courage and determination, and to invest our talents in this present moment."

"In the face of this crisis and in the spirit of Lent experienced this year in a truly exceptional way, for the believer there remains the light of the Easter resurrection. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ open up a perspective of life that will have no end and that allows us to look to the future with confidence and solid hope," the congregation said.

 

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