Many offering online services as New York limits crowd size
By Joshua Maloni
When local restaurants, movie theaters, bowling alleys and concert halls were closed to the public, and social events were cancelled across the board due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people wondered how long it would be before boredom set in.
Then, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed 100% of the nonessential workforce to stay home, as well as senior citizens and those more susceptible to the coronavirus, people became concerned that depression would kick in.
Immediately, questions sprang to mind about employment: How long will I be off? Will my job still exist? Am I getting paid?
On top of that, the news cycle has been consumed with news of positive coronavirus cases, and questions as to when things – society as we knew it – will “return to normal.” This has fueled the fear many are experiencing.
Though elected leaders and nonprofit agencies are working around the clock to provide resources and educate the public on all of the above, many people still want to seek out their regular places of comfort, guidance and support for further reassurance: Churches, temples and mosques.
The problem is, those brick-and-mortar buildings are closed, too, as Cuomo curtailed public gatherings.
Recognizing that could compound negative feelings and further drive people into a frenzy, the local faith community is taking action.
Not wanting the sheep to be without a shepherd, religious organizations have turned to the internet and social media to keep connected with parishioners.
Rabbi Jonathan Freirich of Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo said, “We gathered virtually for Shabbat, via Livestream, Facebook Live, and Zoom, and while we all missed being together in a physical place, it was clear that people very much appreciated the many new ways of connecting. We definitely reached more people than we usually do on a normal Sabbath. We will continue to provide many different ways of connecting, all of which can be found on our website: www.tbz.org.”
He added, “Jewish traditions teach that preserving life is the most fundamental principle. We are grateful to all those who place themselves at risk taking care of our community, whether as a medical professional, a grocery associate, or any of the other essential services that must be done by so many people. We urge everyone who can to stay at home and stay safe and healthy. Our connections via phone and the internet are not the same, but they will be enough for us as we make our way through this crisis, together in spirit, and physically separated to save as many lives as possible.”
The sign outside St. Peter R.C. Church in Lewiston encourages parishioners to connect online.
The Rev. Monsignor David LiPuma, pastor and rector at Our Lady of Victory National Shrine & Basilica in Lackawanna, said, “I taped the fourth Sunday of Lent. We got – from our people that track it – we got over 2,500 views on that Mass alone, which is pretty amazing. I’m taping yet again for this Sunday, for the fifth Sunday of Lent. And also we’re planning now to tape the Holy Week services, so that those will be available.
“And they can get on the Our Lady of Victory website, and our social platforms, social media platforms, to see when they’re going to be on. I’m also going to be taping more YouTube messages – spiritual messages to the people. There’s one out there now that I did with a prayer.”
Prayer, LiPuma said, is especially useful right now.
“I’m really just focusing on connecting to everybody; praying for everybody – all of our parishioners, family, friends – it’s kind of like almost a strong kind of spiritual communion, where you just keep lifting everybody up and saying, you know, there’s a lot of people living now in a lot of fear and anxiety; and there’s a lot of people that are home alone; and all the health care workers and all the public servants that are out there on the front lines. So, what we’re doing is we’re offering our prayer, and our Masses every day, for all those intentions,” he said.
Prayer, of course, is not limited to a physical place of worship.
“What I’m encouraging people to do is that you can pray at home, and God will hear your prayers,” LiPuma said. “You’ve got to believe and know that God would never, ever abandon us. God’s probably closer to us now than we could ever imagine. And I think what God is asking of us is to place our trust – that we will get through this – but we do have to be more careful about how we take care of ourselves, and take care of each other.”
In a press release, Buffalo Catholic Diocese Apostolic Administrator Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger said, “As the faith community of Western New York, we have an important part to play in protecting those most vulnerable and those with underlying medical issues during this period of extreme concern over the spread of the coronavirus. I realize how deeply disappointing it is during our season of Lent to refrain from gathering at public Masses and participating together in our liturgical life, but we must avoid the risk of wider infection. I encourage the faithful, nonetheless, to pray fervently during this time when we must be apart and to continue their Lenten journey within families and in the quiet of their own prayerful reflection, knowing that Christ abides with us always and in every place.”
Instead of being fearful, LiPuma said people could use this time for personal reflection and growth.
“I think it’s made us realize that the world’s a big place, but it’s actually quite small, when it comes down to it. And what one person does can really affect the lives of so many other people,” he said. “Maybe that’s the lesson in all of this, is that, when we get through it, maybe the things that we took for granted, the things that we thought were so important before, may be not as important. The material things. But what’s more important is how we cultivate friendships and relationships in our family; how we return to our faith, to realize that God never abandons us; and you know, right now, maybe that thirst for the Eucharist – that hunger for the Eucharist – will be more real and strong.”
A similar sentiment came from the nondenominational Resurrection Life Church in Cheektowaga, which operates one of the largest food pantries in Western New York – feeding hundreds of families each month.
A letter to the congregation read, in part, “Part of our mission here at Resurrection Life Church is to deliver encouragement and guidance in reflecting the light and love of Jesus Christ and to equip and encourage people to face challenges with strength and hope. There is no doubt that we are seeing these challenges unfold right before our eyes.
“What do we do from here? As a church, it’s our time to shine brighter than ever. It’s an opportunity for us to respond to all situations with greater patience, compassion and understanding. This season is certainly different and difficult, but we are determined to make the greatest impact for Christ while moving forward with wisdom and caution. Both can be accomplished!”
LiPuma said, “What I’m hoping, praying, is that people will stay connected. There’s so many options if you get online. I’m just putting in our bulletin – I’m getting it ready for this week now – of different resources for people, that they can click on; and activities to do with your kids at home; how to pray together as a family at home; encouraging people to call neighbors and friends that they know are alone, and pray with them over the phone. … Skyping, if they can do that. Just to have that physical presence. But even if they can’t, just over the phone to say, ‘I’m praying for you; I’m thinking about you; I know you’re alone in your home,’ that kind of stuff.
“We’re doing all that to encourage people to look out for their neighbors.”
Several churches offer streaming and video options for parishioners to watch Mass.
•Our Lady of Czestochowa Church
•St. Amelia Church
•St. Leo the Great
•St. Gregory the Great
•St. Martha Parish
•Our Lady of Pompeii
•SS. Columba Brigid
•Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica
•Resurrection Life Church
•Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo