When talking about social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic, Stephen Giroux of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Windsor maintains his sense of humor: “It feels very isolating, almost as if people are trying to avoid me. Oh wait! They are trying to avoid me,” he wrote in an email, followed by a smiley face made with symbols on a keyboard.

Kevin Parizo of The Church of the Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary in Middlebury concurs. “The largest challenge during this period is the feeling of isolation,” he says, noting that he and his wife walk each day around several streets in town, but because of the social distancing, many of the other individuals that are out for exercise are distanced both physically and emotionally.  “You quickly acquire a sense of how one feels to be a leper, an incarcerated individual or a social outcast.”

Giroux is spending more time chatting with family members. He and his wife have begun taking short hikes together and daily walks. He has begun practicing his violin more and spending more time with his artwork. “These all help to distract me, but in many ways, they are beautiful changes to my daily routine and help to re-direct my focus to what is important in ones’ life — time with others,” he says. “In the end, we will all benefit from the suffering that we are now enduring. It will make us a better people, closer to our God, closer to our loved ones, and strengthen us as a nation. My faith has been strengthened.”

Indeed, social distancing is giving people an opportunity to be at home more, to help others, to pay more attention to what matters to them and to pray more.

For many, that prayer takes the form of private devotions like the rosary. Others tune into daily Mass courtesy of the internet and social media.

Linda Brasseur of Mater Dei Parish in Newport has been praying a daily novena for those impacted by the novel coronavirus and has turned to social media to watch Masses. “It has been a blessing to be able to watch several Masses celebrated by current and past pastors of Mater Dei Parish,” she says.

Donald McMahon of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington says his biggest challenge is coping. “I am addressing this challenge through daily prayer and thanksgiving for all of the good deeds people are performing for one another every day,” he said. “I am embracing the gift of hope. The singing of birds, nature’s music, reminds me of St. Francis of Assisi’s sermons to the birds in the trees.”

Eva Quebec of Nativity/St. Louis Parish Swanton, “greatly” misses going to Mass, but she watches daily Masses online and is using this time to enter into prayer to stay in communion with God. “He is my strength,” she emphasized.

The Diocese of Burlington offers a variety of resources to be accessed during the pandemic at vermontcatholic.org/ministries-programs/evangelization-catechesis/spiritual-resources-for-covid-19.

It takes self-discipline for Yorini Undyantara of St. John Vianney Church in South Burlington to get used to her new “normal” lifestyle so she can “utilize the empty time slots to grow more spiritually,” she says. She is catching up with reading — Lenten meditation booklets from the church and from different charity organizations.

Her prayer groups are setting up online meetings to continue prayer devotions. And she has     I gathered her collection of religious statues, icons, crosses and rosaries to make a little “sanctuary.” She lights a candle when she tunes into the Mass and the rosary on television or radio. She even has a special kneeler made by a friend.

Parizo says his wife, family, faith and music keep him focused and sane. “Even though my job as the organist and music director of St. Mary’s has been temporarily suspended, I can still practice and learn music because, fortunately, I have a piano and an organ in my home.  I find that music reaches those places in our being that words cannot reach and therefore can be calming, meditative and consoling,” he says.

Those interviewed for this story offer various suggestions for coping with the pandemic and the lifestyle changes it necessitates. Sharon Trani of St. Mary Church in Cambridge, a marriage and family therapist for Vermont Catholic Charities Inc., strongly advises minimizing screen time, especially the news and social media.

She recommends acknowledging the loss of going to church, receiving the Eucharist, chatting with others and connecting with the church community. “And then be intentional in reaching out, calling, virtual chats, praying the rosary together on the phone or virtually, watching live-streamed Mass.”

A self-described extrovert who tends to be energized by being around others, Trani is deeply concerned for those who are struggling, those who are single parents, those who have no financial margin, who live alone or have strife and anger in their homes.

She stays connected with her therapy clients via video or phone and is praying for and trying to encourage and support those who are overwhelmed.

Parizo reminds people to have faith that God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, His Blessed Mother and the angels and saints will continue to guide, direct, protect, comfort and love us unconditionally.

Brasseur, from Newport, prays the pandemic is a wake-up call to people to stop being self-centered, to think of helping others and to return to the faith.

“I also pray that parishioners will remember to financially support their church at this time,” she adds.

“Never give up hope,” McMahon says. “When things become overwhelming, place them into God’s hands.”

 

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