In-person Lenten events in Rochester Diocese are on the rise - Catholic Courier
A man bows his head in prayer.

Andrew Uttaro bows his head in prayer after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation at Henrietta’s Guardian Angels Church Feb. 22 as part of the diocesan Day of Penance and Mercy. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

In-person Lenten events in Rochester Diocese are on the rise

Lenten activities across Diocese of Rochester didn’t span 20 days in 2020, much less 40.

The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March that year forced an abrupt nationwide lockdown and the cancellation of such Lenten staples as parish missions, Stations of the Cross, fish fries and soup suppers. For the next several months, the faithful were able to participate in Masses only via livestream, and when spring 2021 rolled around, most Lenten offerings were still limited to virtual participation.

As the 2024 Lenten season unfolds, however, Leslie Barkin senses an encouraging trend back toward pre-COVID traditions.

“I think last year, a lot of our parishes were just starting to get their legs under them. Now this year, we see a return to a lot of events and ministries that were missing,” said Barkin, the diocesan director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.

Sacramental opportunities in the Diocese of Rochester are growing

A notable example is the Day of Penance and Mercy Feb. 22, which took place in diocesan parishes for the first time since 2019. Barkin noted that several priests had asked to bring back the popular Lenten initiative, which she said was a sign of unity across the diocese.

“It just feels good to be connected with our brothers and sisters in the faith and have that universality,” Barkin said.

Another positive movement involves the program for initiating adults into the Catholic Church. According to Donald Smith, diocesan coordinator of sacramental catechesis and family life, 197 people are in final preparation this Lent to receive sacraments in the church, marking a healthy increase from the 2022 and 2023 totals of 103 and 155, respectively.

Smith noted that the initiation program did operate throughout the pandemic, but that exclusively online catechesis during the pandemic years made it difficult to develop community among candidates and catechumens.

“The community gathers and builds each other. You have to feel you’re a part of that community before you join that community,” Smith said, adding that interest in the initiation program has increased alongside the resumption of in-person Masses and other church ministries.

At Steuben County’s St. John Vianney Parish, in-person Lenten offerings are at their highest level since before the pandemic. Among this year’s events are macaroni-and-cheese dinners and Stations of the Cross each Friday at St. Mary Church in Bath; ecumenical gatherings in the Hammondsport area; and a weekly program at St. Gabriel in Hammondsport that combines dinner and a focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

“It’s kind of a regeneration for the parish perhaps, getting people talking to each other,” said Betsy Carisetti, a St. John Vianney parishioner. Carisetti serves as an organizer of the Lenten program at St. Gabriel, which attracted approximately 35 people to its debut session Feb. 14. She said the program is a first-time effort that previously could not have drawn good numbers due to health and safety concerns.

In-person participation also is on the rise with fish fries at Greece’s St. John the Evangelist Church, which take place each Lenten Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. After operating on a takeout-only basis in 2021 and 2022, a dine-in option was reinstituted last year.

“We were actually getting a fair amount of parishioners asking if we were going back to eat-in,” said Rick Paoletti, a St. John the Evangelist parishioner and grand knight of Knights of Columbus Council 3892, which organizes the fish fries. He noted that eat-in dining last Lent increased from 75 participants the first week to 124 for the sixth and final week: “So you could see the people getting more comfortable with it each week.”

Organizers in Rochester Diocese cherish return to a ‘sense of normalcy’

Paoletti said “it was very important to return to an eat-in event to bring back some sense of normalcy to our community,” noting that “people were so tired of being isolated and not being able to have live, face-to-face conversations.”

Carisetti said that online options for Lenten programming were “a wonderful opportunity” after the pandemic struck, as opposed to having no parish participation at all. Although she noted many remain wary of catching COVID or other transmissible illnesses, she said she hopes more people who are generally comfortable going back out in public will return to church events as well.

Barkin, meanwhile, remarked that going back to a pre-pandemic way of church life remains a gradual process.

“I think our ministers feel there is a semblance of normalcy, although I’m not sure that everything is back to normal,” she remarked.

Tags: Catholic Beliefs, COVID-19 Pandemic, Monroe County West, Steuben County News
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