The COVID-19 pandemic has strained the Catholic Church, yet faith and hope remain strong in perishes, Ximena DeBroeck, director of catechetical and pastoral formation in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the Catholic Church in a variety of ways, but this does not mean that hope for the faith is lost,” she said. “Instead, we focus on the ways we can manage the crisis and maintain the faith within our communities.”
Boston College’s Church in the 21st Century Center hosted “Leading During COVID: Lessons Learned and the Path Ahead” on Feb. 25, a Zoom panel about the effects of COVID-19 on Catholic leadership.
The Rev. Peter Grover, a priest at St. Clement’s Eucharistic Shrine in Boston, talked about the vigorous cleaning procedures introduced by the staff at his parish. He also said his brother constructed pandemic-safe confessional booths, equipped with the same space and privacy as they had before the pandemic began.
“My brother was able to come in and build the confessional booth 6-feet apart to meet the CDC health guidelines,” Grover said. “Thus, confession was reopened to the use of the congregation, and this was a huge success for our parish.”
DeBroeck described the church’s immediate response to the pandemic as unsustainable. She oversees over 140 parishes, and their many leaders disagreed on initial precautionary measures.
“Some leaders wanted to open churches, some were extremely cautious and hesitant, but the biggest fear was a failure to properly perform faith formation education,” DeBroeck said.
Sister Elaine Poitras, the executive director of the Innovative Catholic School Network, talked about the challenges COVID-19 posed for Catholic schools. The pandemic, she said, is strangling enrollment trends.
Poitras said the pandemic especially challenges principals, who have daunting workloads.
“They feel responsible for their own families, their students, and their teachers, with little rest, lots of work, and a goal to maintain the faith within the Catholic school community during these trying times,” she said.
Poitras said staff and leadership at Catholic schools are becoming increasingly less Catholic, which makes thorough staff education on the catechism even more necessary.
“They don’t understand prayer, and it is a real challenge, but we have been holding retreats and educational resources for these applicants in the hopes of furthering their understanding,” she said.
Poitras was hopeful in the hybrid and in-person models of Catholic education which she said are superior to what public schools can offer currently. According to her, Catholic schools are able to reopen more quickly because of their smaller student populations.
DeBroeck is hopeful that Catholics will come out of the pandemic with a renewed sense of faith.
“When all of this is over, I hope that we can all emerge as a renewed people of God, a people which does not count our fruitlessness,” she said.
Featured Image by Maddy Romance / Heights Editor