Father William Coffas celebrates the Eucharist March 11, 2015. Father William Coffas celebrates the Eucharist March 11, 2015. (File photo)

Rochester-area churches keep people connected during pandemic

Public Masses have been suspended in the Diocese of Rochester due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Father William Coffas wants to remind the faithful that private liturgies are still taking place.

“There are no public Masses being celebrated, but priests are celebrating private Masses, which I think is important for us to make that distinction,” said Father Coffas, pastor of Our Mother of Sorrows Church in Greece. “It’s important to realize that the Eucharist is being celebrated on behalf of the faithful and in response to this health crisis that we find ourselves in.”

Parishes remain committed to keeping people connected via private, livestreamed or recorded liturgies.

For example, Father Coffas and Father Anthony Nketiah, parochial vicar, continue to offer private Masses at the church in addition to using the parish website and Facebook page to communicate updates, offer helpful information, provide weekly bulletins and answer questions parishioners may have (https://facebook.com/MotherOfSorrows).

“We’re striving to find new ways to provide the Gospel message,” Father Coffas said. “We find that the connection to people and using social media is one of those ways we can proclaim the good news of the Gospel even in such scary times.”

He said the parish also has organized a “Sharing the Light Network” to support parishioners who do not have internet access or social media accounts. The network — a phone tree managed by two parishioners and a staff member — is an opportunity to strengthen ministries and encourage the faith, he said. The network provides individuals with someone to pray with or with whom to have a friendly conversation every two to three days, he added (https://motherofsorrows.net).

Similar efforts are being made at St. Christopher Church in North Chili (http://stchristophersnchili.org).

Deacon Dave Kepler and faith-formation teacher Judi O’Brien have been calling parishioners listed in the parish directory. It’s a great opportunity to reach shut-ins and nursing-home residents whom he has not seen since the suspension of public Masses, Deacon Kepler said, and since nursing homes were instructed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to only allow medically necessary visits.

Also working to call every parish home is Father Joseph McCaffrey, pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Brockport. Father McCaffrey also is emailing parishioners a homily every day, and the parish is posting weekly bulletin updates via the parish website (https://nativitybrockport.org).

Although parishioners cannot come together in person to celebrate Mass, Nativity is streaming Masses on Saturdays and Sundays via the parish website, Facebook page and Vimeo (https://facebook.com/NBVMLifelongFaithFormation).

In order to adhere the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice on social distancing, Father McCaffrey said the parish has displayed the Blessed Sacrament in a window that can be seen from Main Street to encourage prayer while people are driving by.

The Blessed Sacrament also is featured in the window of the tabernacle at St. John the Evangelist Church in Spencerport. According to Father Peter Mottola, pastor, the window is visible at quite a distance, ensuring that parishioners can safely participate in adoration from across the street (www.stjohnschurchspencerport.org).

In continuing to encourage safe practices, Father Mottola turned the front step of the church’s rectory into a confessional, an idea that originated with Father Peter Van Lieshout, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Phelps, Clifton Springs and Shortsville.

“Just come up the front steps of the rectory porch, ring the doorbell, then you can just kneel, there is a little kneeler set up,” Father Mottola explained. “There is a screen, so I will open the front door of the rectory, and I can’t see you, so it preserves anonymity and also prevents the spread of disease.”

The “social distancing confessional” is available Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 6 p.m., he noted.

Parishes also are helping parishioners to practice their faith during the pandemic by streaming content in addition to Masses, adoration and reflections.

For example, St. Catherine of Siena in Mendon is streaming children’s stories and a Scripture group for both women and men. Karen Luke, pastoral associate of faith formation and youth ministry, presents this content via the church’s Facebook page (https://saintcath.org).

“In terms of this pandemic, it’s scary. It’s like nothing that we have ever seen, and so the main message St. Catherine wants to portray is even though we’re not physically in person with them, we are still there for them,” Luke said.

According to Luke, anyone can watch and participate in the daily Facebook Live videos Monday through Thursday at 10 a.m. for the children’s story and Monday through Thursday at 9 p.m. for the Scripture group. She said she hopes to stream such worship opportunities as recitation of the rosary in the future (https://facebook.com/stcatherinemendon).

And at St. Monica Church in Rochester, youth minister Jessica Tette recently conducted the parish’s first virtual faith-formation class (https://stmonicaofrochester.org).

Tette led the March 22 class via the parish’s Facebook page using the Zoom video-conferencing platform. The eight young participants prayed for those affected by the coronavirus and participated in a scavenger hunt to find items that made them happy.

She started a virtual prayer chain in which she asks people to list their prayer intentions and react to and pray for the intentions of others. She also posted a guided nature meditation walk to help parishioners with feelings of isolation (https://facebook.com/stmonicaofrochester).

Tette told the Catholic Courier she’s been trying to be as creative as possible. Among other efforts, I have been emailing parishioners with tutorials on how to set up Facebook accounts so that they can connect to others via social media, she said.

“Part of this is a learning experience for me to see what people react to, what they engage with, and just trying to encourage people to be connected,” Tette said. “Because if they’re connected, we can reach out to each other as a parish community, and people can hopefully be empowered to be the body of Christ for each other.”

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