“How can we help each other?” Father Jim Fennessy asked his parishioners March 20, four days after the Diocese of Rochester suspended the celebration of all public Masses in local Catholic churches.
“Difficult times can bring about many emotions, including fear and anxiety, however, it can also bring out the best in us as we look beyond ourselves and look towards helping others,” he continued in an effort to comfort anxious members of St. Francis and St. Clare Parish in Waterloo and Seneca Falls, where he is pastor, and to challenge parishioners to find ways of helping each other.
In recent days priests, deacons and staff members at parishes throughout the Diocese of Rochester’s Finger Lakes region have challenged themselves to find new ways of reaching out to and helping their parishioners.
Father Fennessy’s words of comfort and challenge, for example, were delivered to his parishioners via the Facebook page of St. Francis and St. Clare Parish. Many area parishes have been harnessing the power of Facebook to deliver messages to parishioners, keep them updated about parish activity — especially the cancellation of events — and inform them of opportunities to practice their faith online.
One such opportunity involves watching either pre-recorded or live Masses online. Although public Masses have been suspended indefinitely, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano has asked diocesan priests to continue saying Mass each day despite the lack of the presence of the faithful, and many parishes are filming those Masses and posting them online. Parishes presenting Masses and such offerings as livestreamed rosaries online are:
• St. Francis and St. Clare Parish — daily and weekend liturgies are recorded, with the most recent video posted each morning on the parish’s website (www.sfscrcc.org), where it may be viewed until it is replaced by the next day’s recording.
• St. Peter Parish in Phelps, Clifton Springs and Shortsville — the parish website (www.stpeterparish.us) offers videos of previously recorded Masses as well as livestreamed Masses.
• St. Benedict Parish in Canandaigua and East Bloomfield — previously recorded Masses are available on the parish website (www.stbenedicton line.org).
• Our Lady of the Lakes — visitors to the parish website (https://ourladyofthelakescc.org) may view livestreamed Masses seven days a week, as well as a Mass in Spanish and a livestreamed rosary. The schedule of Masses and other events is on the website.
• St. Patrick Parish in Victor — the parish website (www.stpatricksvic tor.org) features a link to St. Patrick’s YouTube channel, where Masses and other parish events are livestreamed seven days a week. The parish also has been posting the hymns, psalms and readings for Masses on its Facebook page so viewers can read and sing along from their homes.
• St. Mary Parish (www.stmaryauburn.org) in Auburn offers a website link that enables parishioners to participate in livestreamed recitations of the rosary from their homes.
Several pastors, including Father Michael Costik of St. Benedict Parish, have posted video messages to their parishioners on parish websites. Father Peter Van Lieshout, pastor of St. Peter Parish, posted a video urging parishioners to be attentive to both their physical and their spiritual health, and to look out for one another during this time of uncertainty and challenge. Several days later he posted another video explaining the parish’s “drive-up confessional.”
“OK, so you want to come to confession during these coronavirus restrictions, but are a little bit nervous about proper social distancing. I’ve got the solution for you. Alright, Monday through Friday, 5:30 to 6, I’m going to hear confessions at the rectory,” Father Van Lieshout explained in the video, gesturing to a “confessional” he’d fashioned on the rectory’s front porch.
Those wishing to receive the sacrament simply drive up to the curb in front of the rectory, located next to St. Felix Church in Clifton Springs, walk up to the rectory’s front door and ring the doorbell to let Father Van Lieshout know a penitent has arrived. After ringing the bell, penitents can head over to the rectory’s front window, where an arrangement of screens and cloths enables Father Van Lieshout to hear confessions through the open window while still maintaining the penitent’s privacy and protecting both penitent and priest from potential exposure to germs.
Since January, Father Van Lieshout also has been posting his weekly homilies as well as regular parish podcasts on the parish website.
Father Anthony Amato, parochial vicar at St. Katharine Drexel Parish (www.drexelparish.org) in Wayne County, has been posting audio recordings of his daily homilies online every day since July.
In the absence of public Masses, several parishes have stopped publishing weekly bulletins. Others continue to produce bulletins in order to keep parishioners abreast of important information. The March 29 bulletin for Our Lady of the Lakes, for example, contained information about when Masses would be livestreamed, a prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe for use during pandemic, a recipe for homemade hand sanitizer and information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about proper hand-washing techniques. Some parishes publish these bulletins on their websites, while others print them and leave them readily available outside church buildings.