By Renée K. Gadoua | Contributing writer, and Katherine Long | Editor
Le Moyne College President Linda LeMura likely speaks for many people frustrated at the dramatic disruptions the novel coronavirus pandemic is causing to secular and spiritual activities. In a 26-second video posted March 18 on Le Moyne’s YouTube channel, LeMura energetically pummels a large blue ball that represents the coronavirus.
The video was sent to Le Moyne seniors after the college announced its 2,500 students will not return to campus this semester because of the global health crisis. “I feel your pain! I am furious and sad on your behalf,” LeMura, a Syracuse native who graduated from Bishop Grimes High School, wrote. “I love you all. We will find ways to be together again.”
Bishop Douglas J. Lucia acknowledged uncertainty and urged courage in a March 20 letter announcing he had suspended public Masses in the Syracuse Diocese, including Holy Week celebrations and Easter Masses. “We are, indeed, in turbulent times, being tossed about by the waves of this pandemic,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, we should not be afraid. The Lord is with us.” [Read the letter in full on page 4 of this issue.]
Public liturgies for Palm Sunday, the Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday are canceled and to be celebrated by priests in private. Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, is April 12. This is the first time in recent memory Syracuse’s bishop has suspended Mass.
In addition, Faith Formation, and certain parish activities are canceled. The faithful remain dispensed from the obligation to participate in Sunday Mass. Diocesan officials also announced:
• Ordination of three diocesan seminarians to the transitional diaconate, scheduled for April 18, is postponed to June 19.
• Ordination of 14 permanent deacons, scheduled for April 25, is postponed to fall 2020.
• Celebrations of First Holy Communion and Confirmation are postponed, and details about rescheduling them are forthcoming.
• The April 6 Light is On campaign, which encourages participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is canceled. General Absolution is not permitted.
Chancery offices are closed, with “very limited essential personnel access to the building for essential services.” Parish offices and rectories should follow the same procedure, and staff will work remotely to the extent possible.
Pope Francis has granted special indulgences to the faithful who are in quarantine and health care and family members caring for the sick.
Bishop Lucia also dispensed Catholics from the obligation of abstaining from meat on Good Friday and the remaining Fridays during Lent “to assist those for whom the practice of abstinence is difficult at this time, for example, because of the current shopping situation.” The law of fasting on Good Friday remains in effect.
In the last two weeks, parishes, ministries, and programs responded to increasing restrictions from counties, New York state, and the diocese amid exponential growth of confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
More than 25,000 confirmed cases had been reported across New York by midday Tuesday, including at least 80 in the seven counties in the diocese. At least two deaths had been reported in the region by that time.
Several parishes livestreamed Sunday Masses online or through social media platforms March 21 and 22. Father Jason Hage offered Mass in a small chapel set up in the parlor of the rectory at St. Mary’s in Hamilton. The Mass was streamed live on the parish Facebook page, with more than 420 people tuning in to watch.
He delivered his homily twice on Sunday — once during the celebration of Mass and once in a video recorded after he discovered the live feed had cut out during the Mass. “I feel like God has a wonderful sense of humor, cutting the feed in the middle of my homily,” he joked.
Pastors are seeking new ways to minister during the pandemic. “I have to do everything I can to reach out [to parishioners] and to stay connected,” Father Hage said.
In a note to parishioners March 20 about the cancellation of public Holy Week and Easter Masses, he acknowledged their shared sadness. He also assured the community that “there are ways we can still be parish, we can still be Church; maybe this is pushing us to think outside the box and think of ways of doing ministry and even prayer from the home that maybe we should have been doing all along.”
Still, not seeing people at Sunday Mass was difficult. “I was grieving. It’s heartbreaking,” Father Hage said.
Father Joseph Clemente, pastor of St. Marianne Cope Parish in Solvay, also addressed the importance of community. “The church cannot gather in our churches. But rather we gather in a different way, expressing ourselves as God’s people who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ,” he said during Mass on the parish’s YouTube channel on its website and Facebook page. “I invite you to continue to pray with me as we celebrate the mysteries of faith, as we communicate those mysteries in a different way, but in a way that keeps us together as God’s people.”
Msgr. Neal Quartier, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse, told worshipers to trust God in a video of his Sunday homily. The cathedral will be open for private prayer 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Amid uncertainty and fear, believers are called “to surrender to a God whose ways are not our ways, but who is our shepherd, who calls each one of us to bring light into this world and promises that the darkness will not win out,” Msgr. Quartier said. “The light of Christ will win out.”
Bishop Lucia announced Mass suspensions the same day New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced additional policies to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Cuomo told New Yorkers to stay indoors as much as possible and ordered all nonessential businesses to keep all workers home. Those measures went into effect at 8 p.m. March 22.
Catholic Charities’ “essential services will remain intact,” Catholic Charities CEO Michael F. Melara said in a video message to constituents March 20. Food pantries, emergency services, and Syracuse’s men’s shelter “remain available to members of our community who are most vulnerable and at greatest need,” he said. Catholic Charities serves more than 100,000 people a year across the diocese.
‘Pray, hope, don’t worry’
Dozens of parish events scheduled for the next few weeks have been canceled, including fundraisers, fish fries, bingo, concerts, and parish missions. Lenten women’s retreats scheduled for March 21 and 22 at Holy Cross Church, DeWitt, and Our Lady of Good Counsel, Endicott, were canceled.
“Almost everyone I spoke to is very disappointed and said they look forward to it every year,” said Nancy Huffaker, chair of the diocese’s Commission on Women in Church & in Society. “It’s a beautiful time to pray together during Lent. We’re going to miss that.”
Huffaker hopes the commission will be able to present its annual conference, scheduled for October 22. For now, she finds solace in the canceled retreats’ theme: “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.”
Diocesan Catholic schools have begun instructing students online. That will continue until at least April 14. Le Moyne also began online instruction this week. Undergraduate and graduate commencment ceremonies scheduled for May 15 and May 17 have been postponed.
The video in which Le Moyne’s president “attacked” the coronavirus was intended to ease the sadness, anger, and disappointment many are experiencing. “Please find moments of laughter in the midst of this seriousness,” she wrote in a YouTube comment. “It’s important for your physical and mental wellness.”
‘I was hungry, and you gave me food’
By Renée K. Gadoua |Contributing writer
The coronavirus pandemic has suspended Masses and closed schools, but some parish-run food pantries continue their ministry.
At Our Lady of Sorrows Pantry in Vestal, volunteers have adapted their operation to a drive-up service. “Two pantry leaders stand outside and take the orders of the clients,” Father John Donovan wrote to the Sun. “One runs the order inside, where no less than four people are filling the orders. Each step of the way required sanitizing and a change of gloves. Cans were wiped down, the cart that went outside was wiped down, and the clients themselves put the groceries in the car. Repeat.”
Jackie Adams and daughters, Liz and Maddy (juniors at Seton Catholic Central), volunteered the first night the parish adjusted its workflow to match safety protocols. Why help the pantry during this stressful time? “Because it needs to be done,” they said.
For now, Our Lady of Sorrows will maintain its food pantry schedule: noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday, 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday, and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week closed all businesses except those offering essential services. Parish food pantries may continue to operate, according to diocesan Chancellor and Director of Communications Danielle Cummings. “As long as we can provide emergency assistance in a safe manner and comply with the State directives, we want to be present to those most in need,” she told the Sun.
Volunteers at St. Lucy’s Church in Syracuse moved food pantry operations into the gymnasium to prevent spreading the virus.
“It is a tough decision for any of the ministries to curtail or even shut down during the coronavirus pandemic,” Murray Gould wrote in a message to the parish. “We know that in this difficult time the people we serve are most threatened.”
One day last week, St. Lucy’s pantry served more than 50 households, about double the number it typically serves. “I am very proud of our team of volunteers that worked today under challenging conditions with a smile and grace toward our clients,” Gould wrote.
The food pantry at 425 Gifford St. is open 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sunday. The parish has suspended its Bread of Life Wednesday meal and Catholic Worker on Wheels food ministry.