During the rapidly progressing COVID-19 pandemic – in the midst of the holy Lenten season – the Diocese of Orange is embracing technology to minister to Catholics hit hard by the crisis.
Bishop Kevin Vann led the diocese and its parishes in closing churches in the days prior to Gov. Gavin Newsom on March 19 issuing a stay-at-home order to protect the health and well-being of all Californians and to establish consistency across the state in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
While many local churches suspended live Masses, a significant number are offering livestreamed and online Masses in a variety of languages. Some pastors – such as Our Lady Queen of Angels’ Father Steve Sallot – are calling parishioners to offer support and prayers.
Bishop Vann announced on March 17 that in response to the pandemic all Masses throughout the diocese were temporarily suspended, and dispensed all Catholics in the diocese from the obligation of attending Mass. He also noted the importance of continuing to support ones parish financially.
“It’s critical during this health crisis that Orange County Catholics continue to give generously to their parishes,” Bishop Vann said. “Almsgiving is an important part of worship at all times but particularly during Lent. I urge Catholics to prayerfully send their donations by mailing a check to their church or delivering a financial gift to the rectory in person.” Some parishes offer online giving as well.
Orange County Catholics are urged to check the Diocese of Orange website at rcbo.org, their parish websites and parish Facebook feeds for the latest information. Most churches remain open for individual prayer and confession, and many offer online daily prayers.
“I think of the many times that the Lord said, ‘Do not be afraid,’ and ‘do not fear;’ the same words that Our Lady of Guadalupe said to St. Juan Diego,” said Bishop Vann in his March 15 homily at Christ Cathedral. “And I remember within my lifetime, my grandparents speaking of having lived through the Spanish flu, right after they were married. And I remember the effects of the polio epidemics and later the Salk vaccine.
“All of these moments, as cures were searched for and precautions were taken, also called forth the best of the human spirit of generosity, care, love and fearlessness, AND Faith,” he added.
Bishop Timothy Freyer appears often on Facebook Live to encourage and soothe those who are isolated and anxious in light of the growing financial and health crises. “Pass the time productively,” he urged recently, “keeping yourself rooted in Christ’s love.”
Bishop Freyer recommended consulting the websites of the World Health Organization (https://www.who.int/) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/) for the most factual information and to refrain from undue worry.
“Studies say that when we pray repetitive prayers like the Rosary, our blood pressure drops and we stay in peace,” he adds. “We are called to remain in peace even in the midst of difficult situations. The Lord tells us over and over again ‘be not afraid.’”
People want to be assured that the Catholic Church remains even as they are forced to stay away from their parishes, Fr. Sallot agrees. “What we’re really trying to do is push people to use the technology so that they can access the many resources available online for daily meditations and Masses.
“Nothing says you can’t go outside and walk, pray the Rosary, read a book, watch a family movie together,” Fr. Sallot adds. “When you do these things, it allows you to get out of your own head. Together we will figure this out as a community and as a Church. The main thing is that the power of prayer brings us together.”
Indeed, livestreamed Masses, the Zoom and GotoMeeting software programs, and tools like YouTube and Vimeo, among others, offer unique resources to isolated Catholics, notes Greg Walbenbach, director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace.
Still, Walgenbach notes, “Those who have must be ready to share with those who do not. We need to look out for those most in need.”
Walgenbach and Armando Cervantes, director of the Youth and Young Adult Ministry, have compiled a list of ways to help others: “50 Creative Ideas for Parishes During COVID-19” which available by request from them at rcbo.org or via email; contact gwalgenbach@rcbo or email@example.com.
On one hand, the coronavirus crisis can be overwhelming, notes Katie Dawson, director of Parish Evangelization and Faith Formation. “Yet there is a great sense of solidarity that we are all in this together.
“The Church teaches us that God is always with us,” Dawson observes. “The challenge we have is cultivating the awareness of God’s presence that supports us in seeing what it is unseen.”