“I think especially during this time of isolation, many of us feel very alone in our faith, and (feel) the longing for connection with others in our parish and communities.”
Sixteen-year-old Marina Fasano shared these words with the Catholic Courier while reflecting upon her involvement with St. Kateri Parish’s Youth Ministry Peer Team, which recently created an online resource intended to help the Irondequoit parish’s members engage more fully in the Lenten season. Each week during Lent, the teens on the peer team are posting video messages on the Youth Lenten Journey, which may be accessed via St. Kateri’s Facebook and Instagram pages. This online resource also will contain a virtual Stations of the Cross created by the young people in one of St. Kateri’s confirmation groups, according to Jodi Schott, the parish’s director of pastoral ministry.
“All of these activities are great guides on how we can all have the best Lenten journey, grow in our faith in God and remember that we are never alone,” said Marina, whose video reflection on Ash Wednesday was posted Feb. 17. “All of us on the peer team have felt this sense of loneliness during this pandemic and wanted to bring opportunities to the parish to try to eliminate this loneliness because we are connected in our faith as a parish.”
Many other parishes throughout the Diocese of Rochester are offering virtual Lenten programming and opportunities this year. At Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Elmira, for example, Deacon George Welch is offering a weekly course on Thomas Merton via Zoom. And over at Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community in the Finger Lakes region, parishioners have been invited to form small groups and meet via Zoom as they participate in a seven-week program called Faith Feeds.
Such opportunities were not the norm when Lent began last year, just weeks before the pandemic forced parishes to cancel Masses and in-person events for several months. St. Kateri’s online footprint before the pandemic was mainly made up of some social media posts and occasional video messages, in addition the parish website, Schott said. Now, however, the parish posts weekend and holy day Masses on its YouTube channel, offers weekly Facebook videos from its pastoral associate and regular videos from Schott and her husband, Deacon Jonathan Schott, as well as virtual participation in faith formation, sacramental preparation and committee meetings. When St. Kateri offered a three-day online retreat during Advent, each day’s program was viewed more than 500 times, and the parish is hoping its Youth Lenten Journey will be similarly successful, Schott said.
Such efforts to help Catholics engage in their faith despite the pandemic are important because they “can provide people with a solid foundation to cling to when the whole world seems like it is in utter chaos,” according to 17-year-old Stephanie Rappold, another member of St. Kateri’s Youth Ministry Peer Team.
“Faith is often the glue that can hold us together when the world feels like it is crumbling apart. When we are all given more opportunities to engage in our faith, it gives us the chance to develop a stronger connection with God, who can sustain us through these difficult times,” she remarked.
St. Kateri’s teens quickly became proficient at Zoom and YouTube, and over the past year, adult parishioners’ comfort levels with these online platforms have been growing as well, Schott said.
Parishioners at St. John of Rochester Parish in Fairport also have become used to virtual participation in parish programming, noted Amy Voll, pastoral minister. Early in the pandemic, the pastor, Father Peter Clifford, began praying the rosary live via Facebook twice a week. Now during Lent, the parish offers virtual Stations of the Cross each week as well as an online Lenten series and a virtual Bible study.
Parishioners have become so comfortable with attending parish events from home, perhaps in pajamas with a cup of coffee in hand, that parish staff are mildly concerned they won’t want to return to in-person events once it’s safe to do so, Voll noted. However, as the COVID-19 infection rate begins to decrease in some communities, some parishes have gradually started offering in-person programming again. At least 150 people physically attend each of St. John of Rochester’s weekend Masses, and the parish has been able to offer a few in-person events for teens, Voll said.
At St. Peter Parish in Ontario County, Deacon Bob Cyrana and Brian Moser are facilitating a men’s group that meets in person and via Zoom simultaneously.
“We wanted to offer both because we know that there are people that are not comfortable being in person yet,” Moser explained.
On snowy February evenings, the Zoom option has come in handy even for men who’d planned to attend group meetings in person, Moser noted.