How Some Eastern Province Parish Responses to COVID-19

Churches are empty. Parish halls are idle. Parish schools are quiet.

This is the current reality for parishes around the world during this pandemic. Yet, ministry continues, and pastoral life lives on in new ways. Traditional activities in Vincentian parishes, too, have been shuddered, but like other faith communities, Priests, Brothers, and parishioners are adjusting.

While this is far from a comprehensive list of what is happening at Vincentian parishes, here are some updates.

Fr. Astor Rodriguez, CM, Pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Brooklyn, New York, reported that on March 24, 30 people still received help from the parish’s food pantry that day.  Recipients waited outside while the groceries were placed in bags and safely handed out.

At Saint Celia Church in Baltimore, MD, Fr. Gene Sheridan, CM, Pastor, writes: “We are in the same situation as others. We’re fortunate to be a small community [house], having Mass and prayer each day. I had one funeral, which had to be a private Mass and limited in number, but worked out well.” He goes on to report, “The Daughters of Charity called the Vicar to see if they could have Sunday Mass in their private chapel. The Vicar told them the priest had to be under 50, and so Gemechu [Fr. Gemechu Raga, CM, Parochial Vicar] went, and will continue each weekend.”

Fr. G. Gregorio Gay, CM, Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Charlotte, NC, reports that they’ve adjusted to the new reality. “Sunday, we exposed the Blessed Sacrament and allowed 10 people at a time to pray for 10 minutes. We had a total of 336 visits. We have begun to celebrate Sunday and weekday Masses online.”

The situation, Fr. Gay notes, continues to evolve. “As of tomorrow, we are asked to stay home for three weeks. We will continue to celebrate the Mass online. Noe Garcia, our seminarian, together with the young adults and youth group leaders, are coordinating a Way of the Cross online. We have cancelled all activities in the Church up until and including April 4.”

Fr. Sylvester Peterka, CM, Pastor of Saint Vincent de Paul Parish in Philadelphia, PA, describes ministry during the pandemic in this way: “It’s like trying to learn ministry over again in a new surreal realm!”

However, ministry most go on. Fr. Peterka reports that they made a lot of phone calls in the past week, and are trying to figure out how to Zoom with parishioners and live stream Mass. He also goes to the Daughter of Charity residence each Sunday to celebrate Mass.

While the food pantry is closed at St. Vincent De Paul Parish because all of the volunteers are in the high-risk 70s and 80s age group, Fr. Jack Timlin, CM, and Fr. Tom McKenna, CM, and some young people joined in to prepare food packages. To practice non-contact, these packages were safely delivered to the people of the parish by calling ahead and leaving the packages on the doorstep.

Through it all, Fr. Peterka remains steadfast in using the most powerful tool we all share: “At home in the rectory, the pandemic encourages the confreres [Vincentians] to pray more, with a greater sense of urgency.

Check back to in the weeks ahead to learn more about how Vincentian parishes are responding to these trying time.

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