This weekend marks the first in Stage 4 restrictions, after the introduction of a curfew by the Victorian Government last Sunday evening. The coronavirus pandemic has certainly changed our lives and thrown up unforeseen challenges as well as new opportunities to be a Catholic parish community. Above all my message to you today is one of encouragement and hope.
Over these last weeks we have been underpinning our parish life with the scriptural words of Jeremiah 29:11, ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ These words were first written to Israel as comfort in a time of great challenge and unrest. They come to us from the time of exile when Israel was invaded and deported by Babylon and all seemed lost. The prophet Jeremiah emerged as a great prophet of hope for Israel. As a Catholic community today we are also called to be prophets of hope and consolation. Our stance in the world, as people of faith, is one of confidence that the God who brought us to life will not abandon us and indeed does have a desire and a will for us to prosper and to have a future. A Catholic parish community is called to witness to that belief.
At the same time, we are faced with some challenges at the moment. From this week our Parish Offices will be closed for the remainder of the lockdown. Our Churches will also remain closed. However, our parish community remains open! This has been our focus throughout the pandemic. You are invited to practice physical distancing and social connection. A Christian community is just that – a community. We cannot live our faith and our lives in an isolated way. As a parish here are some of the ways that we will live our lives of hope and connection.
- Our parish newsletter is now interactive and you are invited to respond, comment and reply to any of the articles that you read in order to stay connected and in touch with one another.
- While our Parish Offices are closed your priests and parish staff are all working from home and phone messages and emails will be received and answered – so feel free to keep in touch with us in that way.
- We are still here to support each other and in particular to support the sick, the dying and the bereaved. Please make contact with us if you or any family member or parishioner you know is in need of pastoral care.
- We will continue to bring an online Mass to you each week, as well as supply material for at home reflection on the Word, including materials particularly designed for children.
- Each week our Communion to the Sick Ministers still continue to make contact with people in a number of the aged care facilities in our area. Let us know if there is anyone you know of who would also benefit from a phone catch up.
- Our social justice priority will continue. Last Thursday evening over 40 people gathered on Zoom for the first of our three-part series Social Justice in a COVID-19 Environment. This will continue for the next two weeks.
- There are a growing number of people joining our Eastern Central Catholic Parishes Facebook group. This is an opportunity in a secure and safe way to share experiences and reflections together and support one another.
- We will soon be conducting a parish survey in order to keep in touch with parishioners and to start planning for a future, post-COVID. You will hear more about this in the coming weeks.
- Our schools are continuing to do an incredible job with online learning and our children are proving to be resilient and creative in the way they learn.
- We are planning a further virtual choir recording to bring together our parish musicians and keep our liturgical music tradition alive. Watch out for this new recording in the coming weeks.
As well as the formal activities of the parish, I continue to hear many stories of people caring for each other and looking out for each other. One parishioner suggested to me during the week that we throw out the challenge that each person makes at least one surprise phone call a day as we create a pandemic of care for each other. Feel free to share your initiatives and ideas here as well.
This week’s Gospel is the account of Jesus coming to the disciples across the water as they find themselves caught in a raging storm. Let’s pray that he walks into our lives now to calm our fears and hear our cries. For we know that the plan the Lord has for us is to prosper and have hope and a future.