Among the Catholics most affected spiritually by the COVID-19 pandemic have been the elderly and shut-ins who may have not the resources or expertise to navigate the various electronic means their parishes have utilized to broadcast liturgies or just keep in touch.
Locally the Archdiocese of Philadelphia does televise a short and to-the-point half-hour Mass every Sunday at the unseemly hour of 5:30 a.m. on WPVI Channel 6, which is re-televised in the city by La Salle University’s Channel 56 at a more civilized 10 a.m.
And of course EWTN, Channel 75 in the city, has multiple longer Masses daily and Sunday with all the bells (no whistles). But nothing beats that personal contact with one’s own parish.
“I said Mass in the convent, and we posted (the video) on You Tube and Facebook; I do think social media is a big thing,” said Father Jeffrey Rott, parochial administrator for little more than a year at St. Laurence Parish, Upper Darby. “Before the pandemic we did not have a large social media presence other than our Facebook page.”
Like many parishes in neighborhoods with aging or immigrant populations, St. Laurence operates on a very tight budget with little room for emergency situations such as the COVID pandemic. It still conducts a school of a little over 200 kids pre-K to 8, which Father Rott takes justifiable pride for its excellence in education.
But at this time the parish only utilizes its lower church because the upper church is closed for a long-term project to replace asbestos ceiling tiles.
During the pandemic Father Rott has been sending out e-mail blasts twice weekly to let his people know what is going on in the parish and archdiocese.
But he’s also done something else that is unusual in this day and age. It would not be possible nor wise during a pandemic to physically visit his people, so he’s done the next best thing by letting his fingers do the walking.
“After we closed the church, I started calling people on the telephone, just to say hello and thank them for their support over the years,” he said. “I think I made about 300 calls and I got most of the people. When I called, I got their email addresses so I can send messages to them. The people were very happy that I called them.”
The upshot of this personal contact? St. Laurence collections are down only about 15 percent year to date, something very few parishes can say.
Maybe Father Rott is on to something. Maybe today annual parish visitation by priests, something that was once mandated in the archdiocese, is not practical for a variety of reasons.
But parishioners might like a little more personal contact from their priests other than a brief handshake after Mass. For example, a simple no-pressure telephone call now and again.
It might be worth a try.
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