Ministry Across Canada in a Pandemic

posted on 04/02/21 04:10 pm by Kathy McMerty  

OLPH, Vancouver (By Bertilla Watanabe)

Dear friends of the Redemptorist community, it’s been the most memorable Christmas ever! It’s the Christmas we used technology to bridge everything – touching granddad on camera, sharing mulled wine with friends over Zoom and celebrating Mass on YouTube. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes it brought a tear, sometimes laughter… at the sheer craziness of it all!

At Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, we had our share of ups and downs in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Redemptorist Associate Eydie Cowley led the parish’s weekly Advent Zoom reflections based on the writings of Pope Francis. The opportunity to share the challenges of having too-much family all the time or no family most of the time became a real solace for the dozen or so parishioners who signed up. It was the Wednesday pick-me-up that beat not going to Starbucks.

On the Friday evenings of Advent, we had Fr. Ivel Mendanha all the way from Mumbai to brighten the dark days of December. He was already a familiar face to our parishioners from his past visits to Vancouver. His up-close and passionate talks on the Meaning and Messengers of Advent were simply enlightening…who knew there were three Isaiahs?! We are certainly blessed to have such dynamic Redemptorists who can muster that much energy at 5am, his time.

The parish Christmas decorations and nativity scene went up as scheduled. The Archdiocese of Vancouver’s Blue Light campaign added a hint of blue to the twinkly whites we usually have. Blue, being the colour of our Blessed Mother, signified the confidence we have that with her help we would get through this Covid Christmas while sharing the grief and losses of those in our Archdiocese having a blue Christmas.

OLPH School families had their share of challenges two weeks before the scheduled Christmas break. A staffing crunch forced students and teachers back to on-line classes for safety reasons. This did not deter them from carrying out their annual Family2Family Christmas outreach effort to Strathcona Elementary School in eastside Vancouver, a school which has a disproportionate number of low-income families. In this partnership which began three years ago, each OLPH class was able to shop for gifts and design Christmas cards for 35 families.

Parish families have also been supporting this effort to Strathcona through the annual Giving Tree campaign. Ornaments listing pantry essentials such as canned foods, baby supplies, household cleaning items and grocery gift cards are usually picked up by parishioners from the giant Christmas tree in the church foyer. Donated gifts are then packaged at a fun Santa’s Workshop event usually with music, food and much merriment. This year for the safety of all, parishioners were told to simply drop off gift cards which were then delivered to Strathcona.

By Christmas Day, our priests had had their crash course in broadcasting and were all set to welcome the Christ Child with livestreamed Christmas Masses over Youtube. It all went beautifully. There is only so much one can do to add reverence and a touch of class to drive-through Eucharist. Sigh! But if our good Lord was humble enough to come to us in a stable, we trust he will, for now, tolerate being picked up at the curbside. Hopefully, not for too long.

The Hands and Feet of the Redeemer – St. Joseph’s, Grande Prairie! (By Fr. Leo English, C.Ss.R. for all of us at St. Joseph’s)

As I write these few words I am keenly aware that in a town this size – Grande Prairie has about 70, 000 people – we have as of today, 195 cases of Covid. Despite the odds the generosity of people here in the Peace country of Northwestern Alberta is outstanding.

At a staff meeting in late Sept we brainstormed the idea of having a reverse drive through. We called it such because normally one would go to a drive thru and pick up food. This time we asked people to go to a drive by, at St Joe’s and drop off food. And on Sat Oct 4th did our people ever rise to the occasion—we filled a trailer and ten pick-ups with food for the local Salvation Army Food Bank! What a great partnership of people! The logo that cemented our day was painted on the trailer –“Well done is better than well said.” We have plans in the works for a repeat of this on Sat, May 2nd 2021.

Partnering with our Social Justice committee, throughout Advent our Parishioners contributed bins and bins of socks for local agencies. This is an annual Advent event that continues to inspire.

Our Redemptorist Associates on a weekly basis deliver food to the Food Bank. Each weekend parishioners drop off non –perishables on their way to Mass. Once again bins of food are dropped off.

Recently a parishioner who wants to remain anonymous dropped off ten winter coats for us to distribute from the office when the need arises. We have an ample supply of toques, mittens and socks on standby, all donated.

We salute the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Women’s league for continuing their generosity to local agencies. Of course we want to salute the generosity of parishioners in supporting Catholic Family Services. This in an invaluable service offering online support to so many who struggle with mental health and anxiety particularly during Covid.

On March 6th in partnership with the Grande Prairie Catholic School District Board of trustees we hope to have a reverse drive thru collecting whatever local agencies ask of us.

All of this speaks volumes about feeding a vision of Hope in these difficult days. Hope and compassion are all around us. Despite Covid, we have grateful hearts, willing hands and a united Vision.

St Mary’s Saskatoon (by Fr. Mick Fleming, C.Ss.R.)

This is the set up for people to pick up their Christmas gift cards for their Hampers at St Mary’s in Saskatoon. Thanks be to God all went well.

Over 225 individuals and families received a Christmas gift from St. Mary’s Christmas Hamper Ministry this year.

We had tremendous support from other local parishes, schools and individuals that covered the $18,000.00 spent this year. Not even the Grinch Covid !!! could stop such a great cause.

“Winter Street Patrol: Into the Cold”, Toronto (By Fr. Santo Arrigo, C.Ss.R.)

In addition to the regular outreach ministries to young adults, families and children over the Advent and Christmas Seasons across the country, Ignite in Toronto has been working with St. Patrick’s Out of the Cold Program and St. Patrick’s Street Patrol to offer “Winter Street Patrol: Into the Cold” which has been operating on Sunday evenings since November.  

Throughout this time, and especially at Christmas, groups of about 15-30 volunteers have hit the streets every Sunday evening to offer a variety of warm clothing, hygiene and medical supplies, hot soup, coffee, and other beverages, along with bag lunches prepared by the volunteers who join the walk each week.  We walk in 1 to 2 groups throughout the downtown core, covering about 10kms, seeking out “tent cities” and persons living in challenging situations on the streets.  We also go with a van filled with supplies as a support to the volunteers and to service a large group that we find ourselves.  Since we began, we have distributed over 1100 bagged lunches and about 1500 clothing items.  We have welcomed over 70 individual volunteers who have taken part in our weekly walk; many of whom have participated on multiple days.

Despite the fact that so many hotels have opened for housing the homeless, and for allowing for distancing in regular shelters, there are still many who are left to sleep on the streets, and who are waiting for safe shelter to become available.  Our work has been met with incredible kindness and gratitude by those we meet, as resources for those left in the cold is somewhat lacking during this challenging time. They appreciate seeing us come in the midst of a pandemic.  Many we know from seeing them at St. Patrick’s Out of the Cold during “normal” times.  In some ways it has been a blessing that we haven’t seen much snow this season, but that can soon change.

On February 3rd, we will gather the volunteers for a virtual reflection, “Winter Street Patrol: Into the Zoom” facilitated by our Redemptorist Volunteer Ministers from Germany: Peter Berger and Matthias Beckmann.  We will continue this important ministry of compassion and care throughout the winter, but are open to extending it into the spring until the St. Patrick’s Summer Street Patrol begins its annual program.

St. Patrick’s Parish, Toronto (By Fr. Tom O’Rourke, C.Ss.R.)

For over 30 years, St. Patrick’s Church has been home to one of several “Out of the Cold” programs in the Greater Toronto Area, responding to the immediate needs for food, shelter and safety each Sunday evening from the middle of November until the end of March, including the Christmas season. In recent years, our team of dedicated volunteers have welcomed approximately 250 guests each week to our parish hall, largely comprised of those who are homeless or who face food insecurity.

This year, due to safety reasons resulting from the pandemic, we are not running “Out of the Cold” in its usual format. For this season, OOTC has partnered with two local, well-known Toronto agencies, Good Shepherd Ministries and The St. Felix Centre, to provide meals for those in need, over the 20-week period.

Each weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, a few volunteers along with our cooking teams come together (no more than 10 at a time, due to capacity restrictions) to create amazing hot meals that are carefully packaged and delivered to our partnering agencies, who in turn package and distribute the meals. St. Patrick’s OOTC provides Good Shepherd Ministries with 500 meals each week, and the St. Felix Centre with approximately 110 meals.

We are blessed at St. Patrick’s through the kindness of so many generous donors and dedicated volunteers who make a real difference in the lives of people who struggle with poverty and homelessness.

St Teresa’s, Newfoundland (Greetings everyone from David, Tony and Ciro – the members of St Teresa’s community in St John’s, NL)

Like everyone else around the world, we have had a few personal, family, community and social challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has pushed us to reflect on many fundamental questions, e.g. what is most important in our lives? How can we help and support people in our parish? How can we adapt in order to continue preaching the good news?

But Covid hasn’t brought only challenges. On the positive side, we have been spending more time together as a community praying, planning parish activities, cooking, enjoying time at the table and indulging in more serious conversation on a number of different subjects. Individually each of us has taken advantage of the extra time to be more faithful to exercise, to visit friends, to take daytrips to see a bit more of Newfoundland, and to read.

In our parish, as soon as the churches were closed in March, we started recording mass in our house chapel and posting it online as a way to stay in touch with our parishioners. We also invited some parishioners to record short videos about their journey of faith, and we shared them on our parish website. It was a great experience!

When it became clear that churches would be re-opening, we worked with a team to set up St Teresa’s church to welcome a limited number of parishioners back for the celebration of Sunday mass on July 19th. Of course, we abided by all the restrictions and protocols to protect people’s health and preserve their safety. At first we continued celebrating daily mass in the house chapel and posting it on our website. In the meantime, we have moved back into the church for all masses. We have also improved our technology, and since mid-January we have been able to livestream the masses.

Our parish catechetical director has been using technology to reach the families with children for sacramental preparation. We have had the confirmation and first communion celebrations that had been planned for last spring. And there has been a surge of baptisms in the last six months.

During this time of pandemic we have been edified to see how people are supporting and caring for one another – that included our staff, those involved in liturgical, catechetical and service ministries, volunteers and the member of the St Vincent de Paul Society. All have been encouraging and keeping in touch with each other.

The Redemptorist Adult Faith Formation Team recently wrote a report for Community Connections, so we won’t repeat all that. Most recently the team has focussed mostly on projects for the Archdiocese: formation for catechists, facilitating the work of a steering committee tasked with bringing together three parishes under one pastor, and planning a mission to be livestreamed for the Archdiocese.

Knowing that we are not alone, we continue this journey with faith and hope that the pandemic will soon be over.

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