In these last couple months, our lives have been dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a time of great suffering, not only from the coronavirus, but also because of mental health struggles, economic hardships, and lost jobs. Many people are negatively affected by the loneliness of long days at home alone, relationships that become strained from being with family 24/7, and not being able to visit loved ones in nursing homes or hospitals.
For Catholics, one of the greatest challenges has been the inability to gather together for Mass. The Eucharist is the Source and Summit of our faith, where the Lord gives us His very self, and sustains us with His grace. However, in order to protect the health of our community, and following guidance from government and public health officials, since March 20 there have been no public Masses in the Diocese of Winona-Rochester. I realize that living without the Mass has been a great hardship for our people. However, I am grateful that despite their hunger for the Eucharist, local Catholics have also been understanding and accepting of the restrictions and protocols in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. I know we all yearn for the day when we can once again worship together, without strict limitations on attendance, and I am working with our diocesan COVID-19 Task Force to figure out a date and protocols for this to safely happen in cooperation with public officials and healthcare experts.
Even amidst the current struggles, there are rays of hope. The Easter season, which Catholics celebrate for 50 days, recalls the joyous event of Jesus Christ rising from the dead. The Resurrection is the ultimate story of hope, where life and light triumphed over death and despair. In our day, too, this hope continues to shine, as local Catholics live out their Eucharistic faith and bear witness to Christ’s selfless love in many ways.
Some examples of this are Catholic parishes, schools, and organizations reaching out to the community by volunteering at and collecting food for Channel One food bank, making face masks, and elementary schools filling their windows with hearts to brighten the days of those who pass by. The St. Vincent de Paul Society has continued to assist those struggling with basic necessities, while abiding by social distancing protocols, and high school and college students have been shopping for food for those who are home-bound and quarantined. The Co-Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist located downtown has been decorating sidewalks with chalk drawings, to provide cheer for Mayo Clinic employees and visitors, and all our parishes have been working hard to continue ministries at a distance, with the aid of Facebook, phone trees, and letter writing.
Our parishes have also been working hard to stay connected with parishioners. Pastors and staff have been calling those in their parish and neighborhood communities, and providing spiritual resources to help people stay connected to their faith despite the inability to gather at church. Our priests have live-streamed Masses, kept their churches open for prayer, and continued to offer the Sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick while observing social distancing and other protocols. Weddings, funerals, and burials have also continued to be held, even with the current restrictions in place.
As we weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am humbled and grateful for the ways in which our local Catholic community has come together to reach out and serve others. Despite staying farther apart physically due to social distancing, we have been able to grow closer spiritually through the love of our neighbor. The Catholic Church will continue to strive to bring the light of Christ to our world during and after these days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Know of my prayers for you, and may we remember to always live out the words of St. Paul, “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Blessed are you.
John M. Quinn is bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona-Rochester.