Parishes Discovering New Ways of Reaching the Faithful

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Pastors across the archdiocese are exploring different ways of bringing the faith to their parishioners at a time when they are unable to gather in parish churches for Masses and other liturgical celebrations.

“We’re exploring opportunities with technology never used before,” said Father Robert Dillon, the pastor of St. Joseph-St. Thomas St. John Neumann parish on Staten Island.

“We’re simply doing what we can, and we’re open to suggestions. We’ll see how things develop as days go by.”

Father Dillon’s parish is one of the many in the archdiocese now streaming daily and Sunday Mass on the parish website, Facebook page and/or YouTube page, and the parish church, like many, has regular hours for visitors to enter and pray.

The website homepage for St. Joseph-St. Thomas St. John Neumann includes links to daily and Sunday Masses, the weekly bulletin, and register to receive parish news on Flocknote, an email and texting program used by churches. 

Father Dillon, who recited the Rosary on Facebook Live April 1, also delivers a video message on the homepage to unite parishioners in prayer during the coronavirus crisis. Even though parishioners are unable to attend Mass to receive the Eucharist, he asks parishioners to make “spiritual Communion” with Jesus, asking for His presence and to strengthen them physically.

“God is on the job,” said Father Dillon in his video message. “He hasn’t left us alone, and we’re not on our own. We pray for each other and we pray for ourselves. We ask God to bless us and take care of us.”

What is being done at St. Joseph-St. Thomas St. John Neumann is an example of how pastors and other priests in the archdiocese are staying in touch with parishioners and bringing the faith to them.

St. Martin de Porres in the Town of Poughkeepsie has a website that includes a parish-streamed video of the Stations of the Cross.

St. Martin de Porres’ daily and Sunday Masses are recorded each day at 6 a.m. for the website’s home-page. Church doors are open from 6:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. for parishioners to pray privately.

“People come in all day. There’s been a steady stream of people coming in and out of church,” said Father Matthew Furey, who has served as pastor of St. Martin de Porres since July.

Father Furey uses email and Flocknote to stay in contact with parishioners, staff, students and parents in the religious education program and the school.

“Instead of worry and anger, we can use this as a time to deepen our faith and hunger for the Eucharist,” he said.

“Nothing can replace going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist,” Father Furey said.

Father Furey and Father Charles Achi, parochial vicar, have made time to meet with parishioners and to hear confessions outside the church. “(The crisis) is making people like me realize what to utilize to reach people,” the pastor said.

At St. Joseph’s in New Paltz, Father John Koelle, O.F.M., Cap., parochial vicar, started reciting the five Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary—Agony in the Garden, Scourging at the Pillar, Crowning with Thorns, Carrying of the Cross, and Crucifixion and Death—via conference call on Friday nights during Lent. 

Phones were not muted so the prayers of callers could be heard. Scripture was read between each prayer, and the evening closed with the Litany of St. Joseph.

“We pray the Rosary to express our faith and come together,” Father Koelle said. 

Sunday Mass, taped the evening before, is shown on the parish’s Facebook and YouTube pages. The Town of New Paltz public access channel televises the Mass on tape delay three times each Sunday.

On March 30, the parish began a series of videos of the day’s readings with a short homily. The parish food pantry remains open for an hour four days per week, and parishioners volunteered to check to see if elderly parishioners need anything from the store or pharmacy and to “let them know we’re praying for them,” Father Koelle said.

Father Thomas Lynch believes a hunger for the Eucharist will lead his parishioners back to Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Scarsdale once the coronavirus crisis is over. Eucharistic Adoration was offered by the parish from after 6:45 a.m. Mass Monday through 7 p.m. Friday before the coronavirus suspended it.

The pastor said parishioners visited Our Lady’s Chapel in the church for adoration at all hours of the day.

“They really love the Eucharist here,” said Father Lynch, who was waiting for the arrival of a camera to begin streaming Masses.

The parish website is helping to keep parishioners informed and connected with the parish and Father Lynch through Flocknote. The website’s homepage also has a video message from Father Lynch. 

“We miss you very much, but we certainly feel the beauty of prayer just all around and that we’re all kind of praying for each other,” said Father Lynch.

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