Our 2020 Lenten journey had barely begun when our daily activities came to a screeching halt. Sadly, that included all church activities, from daily and Sunday Masses, to weddings, funerals, and catechism and Faith First programs.
But a global pandemic is no time to neglect our Catholic community nor the Christian formation of children and adults. It is, rather, a time to grow in our own faith, and to reach out to one another to spread encouragement and hope. Many catechetical leaders in and around Montreal are doing just that.
Anna Maria Conte has been the PLC at Our Lady of Divine Love parish in Laval for the past three years. This year, the parish has approximately 525 children in their catechism program, 300 of whom were preparing to receive Sacraments in the spring. Like other parishes in the city and around the world, they were forced to cancel or postpone those ceremonies. The year’s catechism classes were not yet completed though, so Mrs. Conte decided to challenge the children to work on a mini project in order to complete and fulfill their catechism year. “I asked them to work on any thing they wanted to show me what they learned over the course of their catechism journey.” She says, “I was very happy of the response I got from the children and from the parents. We received some inspiring work!”
With the parents’ permission, the projects were posted on the parish Facebook page. Mrs. Conte reaches out to the parents and children on a regular basis, to stay in touch with the community. She finds that although society is going through a very difficult time, she sees some very positive responses. “I think this crisis has forced us all to stop and re-evaluate our lives and our priorities.”
In the future, the traditional model of catechism classes in church basements may have to be re-worked. Online classes may be the new norm for a long time to come, and if so a program that is dynamic and stimulating for children and adults will have to be built. Mrs. Conte muses, “and maybe the parents will continue to take a more active role in their children’s faith education.”
Francesca La Morgia, also of Our Lady of Divine Love parish in Laval, has been reaching out to parishioners through Facebook during this Pandemic. “I used to simply do a couple of posts for the weekend to inform everyone of the activities that were taking place. Now it has evolved to 5 posts a day” she says, which include “a little prayer to say good morning, a happy thought at lunch, a musical break at 3:00, and a good night prayer at 8:00.” For the month of May they have also pre-recorded the Rosary, which is posted everyday at 5:00pm.
Our Lady of Divine Love has begun broadcasting Mass live on Sundays. “We get anywhere from 500 to 2000 views on these live posts” says Mrs. La Morgia. The parish asked their parishioners to send in pictures of themselves, which were then printed and taped onto the pews. Mrs. La Morgia is at the church to do the filming on Sundays, and pans through the pews during the live mass. “ The kids get a kick out of seeing themselves at church” she says.
Another activity their parish has initiated is ringing the church bells on Sunday. They invite their parishioners to come to the church (remaining in their cars), and honk their horns when Fr. Pierangelo comes out with the Blessed Sacrament to bless the community.
People in the community miss their church, and miss being connected to one another, so they have been turning to the online resources that are being offered. The parish Facebook page has seen the number of followers rise from about 400 to over 700 in the past 3 months. Parishioners post messages “thanking us for all our efforts, saying that they look forward to our encouraging posts,” says Mrs. La Morgia. “I receive messages asking for prayers for loved ones that are suffering from Covid, and we receive updates on their health.”
This vibrant parish is acting in creative ways to provide support to their parishioners during this time of social isolation, and the community is responding, proving that the parish remains relevant in the lives of those who cannot be physically present in the church.