God’s mission and that of the Church did not stop because of COVID—nor did ours at St George Parish in Ontario. We have continued and have adopted new programs and services as they were needed. We have not been afraid of the dark because we know that the face of Christ will shed its light on our dark times. I have been here for a little over a year, the entire time shrouded by the dark blanket of Covid. But God’s mission goes forward.
My pastor, Father Trung Mai, and I have, first and foremost, looked to the needs of the community and the school. During those more restrained times when we had to put up the “No Activity Inside” signs, we simply put more outside Masses on the schedule. We also explored creative new ways for administering the sacraments. Our office computers quickly learned how to Zoom, while our phones were ringing off the hook asking for updates. Our use of email doubled putting out all our bulletins, announcements and reports. We were sorry to say goodbye to some of our staff, but not sorry to take up the extra work. Fortunately, our schools and most of our ministries were able to continue untroubled. Teachers have kept up their jobs both online and in the classrooms. They even gave some online retreats. Through it all, by some miracle, we were able to stay within the safety guidelines of the diocese.
Father Trung Mai has been there every day in his office sending out email bulletins, and information about Covid and the current state of affairs. He was always asking about the health of the parishioners. He sent out a personal letter to each family in the parish giving his blessings and encouragement. He is also asking them to help support the work of the parish in this difficult time. As a result, the church received a flood of responses, and many were quite substantial donations. We continue to be blessed by their generosity. He and I have showed our appreciation to the parish staff and volunteers who so generously share their gifts and talents in service to the church. Great blessings such as these have been a bulwark against the fear and anxiety of this time, which has affected so many.
Now, we do most things online. We, the priests, have kept up our online meetings and phone-call communication with the staff and our various ministers. Our main online focus has been on catechism and RCIA. The catechists are using online methods to nourish the faithful, especially the spiritual development of our children. RCIA does the same for our adults. The numbers of those attending are growing. Such meetings are, of course, not ideal, and are only a substitute for the real face-to-face encounters, but they have enabled to keep up our ministries.
Since I started at the parish, we have been the entire time in the iron grip of Covid. While many parishes have introduced Zoom and YouTube Masses etc., we have not celebrated even one of our Masses online. This is because our parishioners say they don’t feel connected to God through a TV screen. Therefore, we have only offered live, actual, and real, face-to-face Masses and sacraments, either outside or inside the church, according to the directives of the diocese. We care for our parishioners by limiting their numbers, and making sure they are spacing, and masking. We sanitize the chairs and supply hand purifiers. This has meant adding more Masses and working harder but we are happy to do this service. We’ve also continued with our funerals, quinceneras, baptisms and weddings. And we are happy with the results—the people have found peace and spiritual comfort, and God’s mission has continued.
The Covid pandemic has threatened our lives and our way of life, but not our love of God and neighbor. Our parishioners have shown the strength of their faith through their participation in our activities. We are grateful for that and happy that they are safe and sound. On the other side of the equation, they have expressed their great appreciation and gratitude for us, and all that the parish offers. For what more can you ask?
– Hien Van Pham SVD