This time last year, no one could have predicted how swiftly or drastically lives would change during the coronavirus pandemic.
A year later, cases are finally on the decline and as of March 15, a million Kentuckians had received a COVID-19 vaccine.
As it becomes safe to do so, how do we return to ‘normal?’
More importantly, what have we learned in the past year? How do we honor those we’ve lost, those still suffering from the virus; and those grieving lost loved ones and livelihoods.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said as we resume our lives, we shouldn’t lose sight of what we’ve learned.
“We should make sure we don’t lose the ‘purifying of our priorities,’ ” he said in an interview last week. “So many people have said to me it’s been a good thing to be able to renew a closeness in a culture that is always on the run.”
That’s been true for Therese Bawa, a parishioner of St. Frances of Rome Church. She and her husband, Dilpreet, share three sons: Isaac, David and John. The whole family has been working and learning from home since the pandemic began.
The slowdown in the last year has allowed the family to more intentionally focus on their faith and family life.
“It’s given us time to slow down,” said Therese Bawa. “Religious formation and sacramental prep have been better because we had time to read the book together at home as well as interact with our sponsor via Zoom. The kids have more of a chance to ask more questions of us because we’re around and together.”
Another positive to come out of a difficult year, the archbishop said, has been the creative ways parish leaders have found to connect with parishioners. He applauded their efforts to utilize digital resources to maintain contact with parishioners when gathering in person was not an option.
“We got a lot better using technology and live-streaming, let’s build on that. Let’s make sure we don’t lose the capacity to be together,” he said.
Dr. Brian B. Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the Archdiocese of Louisville echoed those words and said the creativity on the part of parish and archdiocesan staff opened new opportunities for personal connection.
“Several pastors did weekly videos where they talked to the people and updated them on what was taking place. I think that was a really important way to deal with the experience of loss of not being in person,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds also noted other positive initiatives that came about in the past year, including the Faithful in Prayer initiative. The initiative invites parishioners to post petitions on a website and in turn to pray for fellow Catholics. The site also includes a brief prayer for the day, links to the day’s readings, devotional music and information about individual feast days. Monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani also pray for the petitions.
Reynolds said the prayer site connects people to a broader community, something many yearn for.
“One of the greatest things to say to a person in any circumstance is, ‘I’ll be praying for you,’ and Faithful in Prayer documents that happening,” he said.
Formation opportunities for parish and archdiocesan staff abounded in the last year thanks to expanded virtual offerings. Just last week, more than 140 people attended the Archdiocesan Leadership Institute held online. Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, La., spoke on the issue of racism in the church.
“That’s one of the things that will probably impact us forever,” said Reynolds. “Folks who have less ability to travel or time limits make it difficult to travel, they are able to connect into programs. And that has increased participation across 24 counties.
“Of course, getting people face-to-face is the preferred mode of communication, but we learned we can be quite effective when we can’t do that,” he said.
As we look to brighter days, Archbishop Kurtz said a priority brought forth by the Priests’ Council is to find a way to honor those who’ve perished in the last year and to bring peace to the family members left to grieve their absence.
“Something I’ve heard again and again is the importance of praying as a community for those who have died,” he said.
So many people have not only lost loved ones this past year, but also the ability to gather to properly mourn those who have died, he said.
“It’s a beautiful thing to be able to do, to be able to pray for the repose of those who have died,” the archbishop said.
Traditionally, the church remembers those who have passed away in the previous year on Nov. 1 and 2, the feast days of All Saint’s and All Soul’s, respectively. Archbishop Kurtz noted that some parishes are considering a special celebration or program this year for the deceased.