By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Church parishes have been creative in reaching out to their parishioners – livestreamed Masses, video messages from the pastors, social media posts, online resources, emails, virtual meetings, phone calls or grocery deliveries – to say “we miss you, we love you and we can’t wait until we come together again and celebrate the Eucharist.”  

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St. Benedict the Moor Church in Bertrandville reprinted the family and individual portraits from its 2020 parish directory and placed them in the pews for people watching its livestreamed Easter Mass to see. Photo provided by Jerilyn Williams

 

At Our Lady of Mercy Church in Baton Rouge, stewardship coordinator Michelle Schroeder said several of the church’s ministries’ volunteers are older people who spend their time in ministries that involve social activities. 

“All these activities were stripped from them, even their morning coffee afterwards, so we wanted do something for them,” said Schroeder.  

She gathered volunteers to call and check-in on some of those older parishioners as well to bring groceries to those who did not want to leave their homes because of the coronavirus. OLOM actively encourages parishioners to “call a friend” and see how they are doing.  

Hundreds of people were called within the first two weeks, according to Schroeder.  

The volunteers said the experiences were meaningful. 

“Calling elderly parishioners was very uplifting.  I got the opportunity to speak to folks that had been shut in their homes for a few weeks and were longing to speak with someone,” said Jason Romero, OLOM Christian formation director. “They also appreciated their parish thinking about them during this difficult time. Speaking to an elderly Cajun parishioner who told me her whole life story was the highlight of my day.”  

Volunteer Adele Dalmau said helping elderly parishioners was rewarding because she was able to see the reward of a smile and tears for just simply going on a grocery run for someone. 

“My daughter got to experience the delivery with me and we both were touched by how appreciative she was and how happy she was to visit with us because she is alone,” Dalmau said. “She left a spot in my daughter’s heart and now the sweet parishioner is in our nightly prayers.”  

When an appeal was made for blood donations, OLOM quickly scheduled a blood drive, which was handled by appointments to comply with social distancing. There was an enthusiastic response from the community. Every appointment spot was filled and within a few hours 48 pints of blood were collected.  

Rural parishes, likewise, made phone calls, hosted rosary gatherings by conference call and made personal offers to help parishioners.  

St. Benedict the Moor in Bertrandville pastor Father Eiseus Ibeh MSP called each parish family, starting with the sick, shut-ins and the elderly. He said the parishioners shared life stories, their concerns and their fears both for themselves and him. He added their phone calls consoled him as they accompany each other.  

“They say, ‘Father, I miss church, I can’t wait to get back to church,’ ” said Father Ibeh.  

And when Holy Week arrived, parish websites were filled with resources to celebrate Holy Week from home.  

On Palm Sunday several church parishes encouraged their parishioners to take photos of their palm branch displays, and posted the photos on church social media sites. On Good Friday several subdivisions sponsored neighborhood Stations of the Cross, which allowed people to participate in the devotion in a unique way while keeping social distance.  

At St. Benedict the Moor, the members of its three choirs submitted recordings for the church’s streamlined Easter liturgy, according to Jerilyn Williams, director of religious education. Additionally, reprints of the portraits of families and individuals in its 2020 directory were placed in the pews.  

Some told Williams they were moved to tears upon seeing them.  

“I hope at the end we will rebuild the community and be more together than ever before,” said Father Iheb.  

OLOM Pastor Father Cleo Milano said he was deeply moved by the way so many faithful Mercy parishioners have engaged in an effort to reach out to those who are elderly, isolated, or in need and assisted with food vouchers. 

“A great committee formed by our Ministry Coordinator Michelle Schroeder has organized phone calls to check on elderly parishioners or those sheltering alone at home. This has included trips to the grocery store to bring items needed to those unable to leave their homes. I have been humbled by the immediate and tremendous outpouring of volunteers who gave blood during the Mercy Blood Drive for COVID-19.  

“The Mercy Men’s ACTS has provided needed items for Angola. Each of these outreach programs have been a sign of living faith in action amongst the dynamic Mercy Church community. In these days of Easter joy, we have taken with us Jesus’ example of service in washing the feet of the apostles on Holy Thursday. Unable to gather in church, the faith lives powerfully in the arms of service to those in need in these very different and unique days,” said Father Milano.