As the Covid-19 pandemic reached into Vermont with a deadly shadow, the Catholic community responded by adhering to state government’s directives and guidelines — even suspending public Masses — but found creative ways to remain connected and to provide continued prayer and education ministries and service and care to those in need.

From online Masses, the rosary and Eucharistic Adoration, to Zoom meetings and presentations to social media reflections and information sharing, Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne and his staff have remained available to the wider Catholic community.

Add to that other events provided by members of the Catholic community that were pandemic tailored: a drive-by birthday celebration for a priest, a Facebook Irish music concert, online exercises, teacher appreciation, news sharing and wellness telephone calls.

“In keeping with Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ order directing the closure of in-person operations for all non-essential businesses, I am saddened to announce that all Catholic churches, chapels and shrines throughout the state will be closed as of 5 p.m. on March 25,” Bishop Coyne wrote to the faithful in the early stages of the pandemic. “As we stay at home in order to stop the spread of COVID19, I encourage you to use this time to strengthen your relationship with Christ through daily prayer, participation in TV Mass, scripture reflection and engaging your family in faith activities.”

To that end, diocesan offices provided myriad online activities and enrichment opportunities.

“Right now social media is one of the more useful means we have for walking with people during this time of ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe,’” said Deacon Phil Lawson, executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life for the Diocese of Burlington. “We all have a very human need to be connected, and during this time [of Covid-19 pandemic] even more so, especially spiritually.”

The Diocese livestreamed daily and Sunday Mass on its website and on Facebook.  The rosary was offered every day. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was offered via social media, and Bishop Coyne used Facebook to offer short reflections.

Online offerings and recordings included:

+ How to deal with stress/anxiety during this time?

+ A 2-part series on the Eucharist and adoration during a time of pandemic

+ Parenting webinars

+ Online book study

+ Online Bible study

+ Online Lectio Divina

+ Online gameshow.

At least 10 deacons joined the new Spiritual Listening Ministry. “We will listen, answer questions, offer support and pray with people,” said Deacon Pete Gummere, director of the Permanent Diaconate for the Diocese of Burlington. “We have been theologically trained and trained in pastoral ministry. Most of us get questions as deacons on any given day. And we respond. That is exactly what we are doing now.”

Another program of the Diocese, Theology on Tap is a lecture and discussion series for young adults in their 20s and 30s, single or married. It provides opportunities for young adults to grow in their Catholic faith and meet like-minded people.

According to Bill Gavin, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Diocese of Burlington, his office’s “biggest success” during the pandemic has been Theology on Tap online; nearly 50 young adults participated in the first one. “We are excited about this prospect moving forward because a challenge with Theology on Tap has been figuring out a way to better reach young adults from all over the state,” he said. “This virtual Theology on Tap is a great way of doing so.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements, Vermont Catholic Professionals met — but instead of an in-person meeting, it was streamed live in April. Now, more than ever, said Brittany Czekaj, chair of the committee for Vermont Catholic Professionals, it is important for Catholics to stay connected and stay strong in their faith: “Many people feel alone and isolated or have increased anxiety due to challenges they are facing due to the pandemic. It is in these times that our faith is tested; continuing to keep up with the community that we have built is extremely important.”

Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. continued to serve persons and families in need during the Covid-19 pandemic and its travel, work and gathering restrictions.

“Vermont Catholic Charities is committed to serving people in our community during this difficult time,” said Mary Beth Pinard, executive director.

The Emergency Aid Program continued to operate, including parish referrals. “We know individuals and families need help, and we want to do what we can,” Pinard said.

In addition to emergency assistance, Vermont Catholic Charities continued to provide counseling services — via phone or videoconference call.

And Brattleboro musician Breton Abbondanzio posted to YouTube a musical meditation in the form of a hymn or an improvisation on a hymn. “In the context of the Church, singing or listening to music at Mass is intended to unify the people who are gathered, and I think singing along with or listening to hymns in your home that are part of our shared Christian heritage can be a way to unite us, even while we are apart,” said the director of music at St. Michael Church in Brattleboro and music teacher at St. Michael School.

Following Scott’s order for a phased restart of Vermont’s economy that balances the need to improve overall social and economic wellbeing with the need to prevent a resurgence of Covid-19 outbreaks, Vermont churches opened for individual devotion and personal prayer May 11.

At the end of May “with an abundance of joy and gratitude,” Bishop Coyne announced the first phase of the reopening of churches to celebrate daily and Sunday Mass beginning June 1. He listed a variety of protocols to keep the faithful safe including the need to wear a mask to Mass, sit in designated pews and stay six feet from other family units. “While these protocols are intrusive, they are necessary as they allow us to celebrate the sacraments in person while doing our part to help stop the spread of coronavirus,” he said.

The obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains lifted until further notice.
For more details about church protocols visit: vermontcatholic.org/covid-19.

—Originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

 

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