By Lydia O’Kane
Over the past few weeks people around the world have had to adapt to a new way of living and working since many countries went on lockdown in a bid to halt the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
Many employees are holding meetings by video conferencing, and families are finding different ways to keep occupied while at home.
Reaching the flock amid Covid-19
The Church too has had to respond to the challenge the outbreak presents. With many Church services suspended at this time, dioceses and parishes have had to become increasingly creative in how they reach their flock.
The Irish Parish of St Francis of Assisi is to be found in Priorswood, North Dublin. On a normal Sunday, both young and old would be attending Mass there, but since the outbreak, Parish Priest Fr Bryan Shortall, OFM Cap., has been increasingly looking to social media to interact with the community.
Parish life at a time of uncertainty
Speaking about life in this community amid the pandemic, Fr Bryan says, that many people in the parish are scared, and there is also concern for the vulnerable. “The older members of our community and of our society are ‘cocooned’ as the term is known around here.”
Despite the fear among parishioners about the spread of Covid-19, Fr Bryan points out that “there is a great sense of community spirit”. He notes that, while parishioners are adhering to social distancing rules, “people are re-discovering methods of reaching out from the isolation of their homes”.
The Church and Social media during Holy Week
In order to keep up with Church events, especially during Holy Week, the use of technology is playing its part with the use of webcams and social media.
Over the last few years, the use of social media platforms to connect with parishioners has grown in dioceses in Ireland, not least in Dublin. Fr Bryan himself is no stranger to using technology to communicate with his flock, but as the Coronavirus forces people to stay indoors, and stay away from Church services, social media is taking on a new dimension in the diffusion of the Gospel message.
Fr Bryan describes social media as being a “lifesaver” and says it has provided a “wonderful forum” for the Parish during this difficult time. “We had 320 people tuned into Facebook live, for our Palm Sunday Mass, and then people came to the gate of the Church yard to pick up blessed Palm to take to neighbours and friends”, albeit at a distance, he says. With a lockdown still very much in place in Dublin and around the country, daily Mass and even the recitation of the Rosary at the Priorswood Parish can be found online.
There is no doubt that this Holy Week and Easter is going to be unprecedented in the life of the Church due to the pandemic. In Dublin, the traditional Good Friday Way of the Cross in the Phoenix Park, where Pope Francis celebrated Mass during the World Meeting of Families, has been cancelled. Many Churches too, will be holding celebrations online so that the faithful can follow the events of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. As part of events to mark Holy Week, the Parish of St Francis of Assisi, on Wednesday will be involved in a “living passion” event linking in with other Churches around Dublin. Fr Bryan says that they are using social media so that people can partake in this, the most important week in the Church’s calendar.
“In a sense all of us are adapting to this reality, and being creative and identifying with a sense of poverty, that we can’t be together and more or less do what we would normally do at Easter.”