Parishes throughout the Diocese of Rochester have developed a variety of ways to keep parishioners connected to their faith via social media and other forms of digital communication since the suspension of Masses and public gatherings due to the COVID- 19 pandemic.
However, recognizing that some people lack computers or Internet access, such parishes as St. Francis and St. Clare Parish in Seneca Falls and Waterloo are also using off-line methods to stay in touch with parishioners.
Father Jim Fennessy, St. Francis and St. Clare’s pastor, told the Catholic Courier that he created a list of parishioners he thought might not be able to access the range of digital communications the parish offers. With the help of Fathers Michael Merritt and Roy Kiggins, he is calling parishioners to find out how they are doing, if they are being cared for and whether they want parish bulletins mailed to them.
The parish’s extraordinary ministers of holy Communion who brought the Eucharist to the homebound also began making phone calls to maintain relationships with people they can no longer visit, Father Fennessy said.
Additionally, Chaplets of the Blessed Sacrament typically used by the parish during adoration had been delivered to some homebound parishioners.
“People who have a computer can watch Mass online. (For) those who can’t, the best we can do is a spiritual Communion with a Chaplet of the Blessed Sacrament,” Father Fennessy said.
He noted that parishioners have really stepped forward in helping take care of each other, with some people dropping off bulletins and others delivering palms for Palm Sunday.
Parishioners and staff at Our Mother of Sorrows Church in Greece likewise are helping to take care of each other by finding off-line ways to keep in touch.
Father William Coffas, pastor, said the parish has set up a phone tree for parishioners to check in on one another. In addition, the church is open for confession and private prayer.
“Realizing that the majority of our parishioners are older and most do not have access to computers or social media, we decided to organize a Sharing the Light Network,” Father Coffas told the Catholic Courier.
He noted that a number of parishioners volunteer to make phone calls to more than 50 people who had requested prayers or friendly conversation.
“So, the Sharing the Light Network is connecting many of our elderly parishioners who do not have many people to talk to throughout their day,” Father Coffas said.
Among other diocesan parishes with similar telephone initiatives is St. Pius Tenth in Chili. According to Father Paul Bonacci, pastor, staff members have been telephoning and mailing letters to all parishioners.
“Hopefully mailings and telephone calls will help our parishioners know that we are thinking of them, care about them and are praying for them,” Father Bonacci told the Courier.
Church of the Assumption in Fairport has mailed letters to everyone in the parish and also has volunteers making calls to parishioners. According to Father George Heyman, pastor, recipients of these communications have expressed their appreciation for the contact.
Parishioners of St. Benedict Parish in Canandaigua and East Bloomfield experiencing emergencies can call the parish’s emergency line at 585-364-2419. Those with non-emergency needs are encouraged to reach out to the parish office at 585-394-1220 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m to 4 p.m.
Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Hornell provides an emergency pastoral line for its parishioners at 1-877-456-0220. While the parish office is closed to the public, staff members are still available to take calls from parishioners with non-emergency needs Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 607-324-5811. The parish also is offering a televised Mass for shut-ins every Sunday at 1 p.m on Channel 1301 (Hornell).
Deacon Dick Lombard of St. Charles Borromeo in Greece has been calling parishioners who are ill, homebound or grieving. Parishioners interested in talking for any reason also are encouraged to call him at 585-259- 3846. Peggy Malvaso, a parish staff member, also has been reaching out to parishioners via telephone.
Another deacon making phone calls is Deacon Dave Kepler at St. Christopher Church in North Chili. Deacon Kepler and parishioner Judi O’Brien have been calling everyone listed in the parish directory.
At St. Jerome Church in East Rochester, Father William Leone and Sister Clare Brown also have been reaching out to parishioners by phone. According to parish secretary Denise Peterson, while the two call people periodically to check in on them, the parish also relies on its younger members to pass information to relatives who do not utilize the parish’s livestreams, website or Facebook page. Weekly parish bulletins are still being published and are available to be picked up at the church, said Peterson.
Meanwhile, St. Rita Church in Webster has organized a daily call-in line for parishioners wanting to touch base, offer support or share their experiences. According to Father Tim Niven, the parish’s staff reaches out to almost 50 parishioners each day via St. Rita’s Stronger Together conference calls.
“Your amazing staff is working hard from home and, with their energy and creativity, they are sharing the love and goodness of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in more ways than you can imagine,” Father Niven posted on the parish website.
Parishioners of St. John the Evangelist in Clyde and St. Patrick Church in Savannah can call into St. Joseph the Worker Parish’s Prayer Line to request private prayers to be said by members of the parish’s prayer chain. Those interested may call Marianne Weaver at 315-923-7153. Parishioners of St. Michael Church in Lyons interested in the parish prayer line can call Judy Tuck at 315-946-4011.
An active telephone ministry also exists at Church of the Holy Spirit and St. Joseph Church in Penfield. According to Father Jim Schwartz, it is an important form of communication, especially for seniors and those who do not have Internet access.
“It is a joy for me to talk and support and pray with parishioners with our telephone ministry,” he said.
Joining Father Schwartz in making pastoral calls are staff members Cathy Kamp from St. Joseph and Deacon Ray Garbach from Holy Spirit.
He noted that sometimes senior parishioners will call other senior parishioners to extend pastoral care and friendship.
“These parishioners are living beautifully the grace of their baptism in which the entire community of the baptized is called to share in the mission of Jesus to reach out with acts of kindness in the service of one another,” he said.