How we got here: COVID-19 changes lives of Catholics in the archdiocese

| March 24, 2020 | 0 Comments

Father Dan Haugan, pastor of Holy Spirit in St. Paul, hears a confession in the church parking lot March 21. After public Masses in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis were suspended due to concerns about the coronavirus, priests such as Father Haugan looked for ways to offer the sacraments. “This is just a wonderful, amazing opportunity to give God’s grace, to be an instrument of God’s grace,” Father Haugan said. “As we go through this time period of fear for our physical health, we can avail ourselves of the opportunity to heal ourselves spiritually through … the sacrament Jesus Christ gave to us, the sacrament of confession.” He noted that 18 cars drove through for confession, and a few others stopped by with words of gratitude. Other parishes offered similar drive-through confessions. That same day, several priests administered the sacrament of reconciliation in the parking lot at St. Maron in northeast Minneapolis. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

If working from home while homeschooling your otherwise in-schooled children and cooking from the far recesses of your pantry have caused you to lose track of how, exactly, events unfolded to lead up to this new situation, you’re forgiven. Even more so if you’re worried about your job, getting sick or are sick.

Meanwhile, for many people, social distancing has dissolved weekly landmarks that help us track the passing of time. Not least among them has been the absence of daily and Sunday Mass. A lot has happened in the past two weeks, and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has taken several serious steps to follow health officials’ recommendations and help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Here’s an overview of how we got to this strange place, where we watch Mass on Facebook, go to confession in parking lots and adore the Eucharist from our car.

The novel coronavirus first appeared in late December in Wuhan, China, and now has infected people in at least 178 countries. COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, first made its appearance in the United States Jan. 21 in Washington State (although it wouldn’t get its name from the World Health Organization until Feb. 11).

On March 6, a person who had been on a Grand Princess Cruise tested positive in Minnesota — the state’s first case. Since March 13, Minnesota has been under a peacetime state of emergency, and state officials have asked Minnesotans to stay home as much as possible and “socially distance” themselves from others to curb the disease’s spread. 

Among the first nine known cases was the parent of student at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, whose son also contracted the virus, becoming the first diagnosed teen in the state. St. Thomas Academy and neighboring Visitation School closed their campuses March 12. Three days later, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced the closure of the state’s public schools, and Catholic schools in the archdiocese followed suit, closing on or before March 18.  

Meanwhile, Archbishop Bernard Hebda suspended Catholics’ obligation to attend Sunday Mass the weekend of March 14-15. Across the archdiocese, some parishes reported that attendance was down by about one-third, while some observed no difference. On social media, many Catholics said they planned to continue to attend Mass as long as possible, while others shared how they were making Sunday a holy day at home. 

Many pews were empty at the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass March 15 at St. Alphonsus in Brooklyn Center, with less than half the usual congregation. 

“Normally, it’s filled to the rafters,” said Jamie Burg, a regular at the Mass who said it was odd to see no one else in her pew, and no one behind her, either. “Today, I thought it was a little sad to see the empty pews, but totally understandable.” 

Celebrations for a typically festive St. Patrick’s Day were also canceled, including the annual Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul with the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in St. Paul. But, that evening, two Hibernians attended the 5:15 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral wearing their sashes, and they prayed a rosary together on its steps to honor St. Patrick and pray for relief and protection from the coronavirus.

On March 18, a day Archbishop Hebda had asked Catholics to fast and pray to invoke “God’s help in these challenging days for our archdiocese, our country and the world,” he announced that he was suspending all public Masses in the archdiocese to curb the spread of the coronavirus.  

“It pains my heart to have to make this decision since I know how many of you deeply love the Mass as I do,” Archbishop Hebda said. “This decision will be re-evaluated in two weeks’ time in light of any local developments and the latest advice of civil authorities and experts.” He praised parishes for expanding efforts to reach Catholics online and by television or radio, and noted the importance of Catholics making a “spiritual Communion,” or prayerfully asking to receive the graces of the Eucharist without physically receiving it. 

But now the archdiocese is preparing for a Holy Week and Easter Triduum without public Masses. It is creating a web-based retreat to help bring Catholics together during the sacred time.

Across the archdiocese and the U.S., Catholic leaders are finding creative ways to make sacraments available: Priests are hearing confessions in church parking lots, blessing Catholics in their cars and holding eucharistic adoration outdoors to allow for adequate social distancing. Many parishes have leveraged social media, offering livestreamed Masses, rosaries and Stations of the Cross. Local livestreamed Masses in English and Spanish are listed at archspm.org/live. 

Pastors are posting videos of their reflections and asking for prayer intentions. The Office for the Mission of Catholic Education partnered with Relevant Radio to offer a daily 11 a.m. litany of the saints, led by Archbishop Hebda and a DeLaSalle student born in Wuhan, China.

Catholics also are making personal appeals to help others. Father Paul Jarvis, senior associate pastor of St. Bridget in Minneapolis, has asked people to send him their prayer intentions. Catholic liturgical composer David Haas is livestreaming morning prayer on Facebook. Father Michael Tix is connecting with the Academy of Holy Angels community, where he serves as chaplain, through virtual “Mondays with Father Mike.” 

Archbishop Hebda livestreamed Stations of the Cross, March 20 and he and Bishop Andrew Cozzens are offering daily videos related to COVID-19 on the archdiocese’s social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube). They’re also available on the archdiocese’s website, on a new page dedicated to COVID-19 resources: archspm.org/COVID19. 

Meanwhile, the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota has launched the Minnesota Catholic Relief Fund to assist parishes and schools that risk financial crisis because of the coronavirus’ effect on fundraising and the general economy. The archdiocese also announced March 24 an Economic Impact Task Force to monitor parish and school financial situations.

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