Fr. Mario Infante presides at Mass in the storeroom of his parish office in Brooks, Alta. Photo courtesy Fr. Mario Infante

Priest projecting hope in outbreak town

By  Quinton Amundson, Catholic Register Special
  • May 9, 2020

Daily Mass is looking a lot different for Fr. Mario Infante during the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of presiding over celebrations for throngs of parishioners four times a weekend and six times from Monday to Friday, the parish priest for St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Brooks, Alta., is performing one Mass per day just for him.

And instead of conducting the ceremony in a chapel, Infante has set up a table adorned with white cloth for an altar, a lectern and the Cross of Jesus — in a storeroom back in the parish office.

Having to make such a sweeping change to his weekly rhythm has been difficult for the priest, who has been serving in Brooks since August. “It has been a struggle and challenge for me to go from four Masses in a weekend to not being able to celebrate with everyone,” admits Infante. 

As of the March 21-22 weekend, churchgoers in Brooks were encouraged to tune into the streaming coverage provided by Bishop William McGrattan at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Calgary.

An even greater trial the priest is confronting is anxiety for his fellow residents of Brooks, a small town (population about 14,400) about 190 kilometres east of Calgary that has become a coronavirus outbreak zone — the number of cases has gone from zero on April 13 to 872 as of April 30.

“As a resident of Brooks, now I am experiencing feelings of fear for those of us who have been infected by COVID-19,” said Infante, who found out he tested negative for the virus a couple of days after he visited an assessment centre for asymptomatic individuals. “But at the same time, when someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 calls me I have to give them courage and a message of hope.”

Fuelling his feelings of hope and optimism is the knowledge that God has endowed the people on the frontlines with the talents to forge better days ahead.

While abiding by public orders to physically distance, Infante is actively working to stay connected to his parishioners. He sends out weekly homily reflections via digital media, provides counsel over the phone and is in the parish office each day until 7 p.m. to take calls.

Also, the chapel area of the parish is still available as a space of prayer for parishioners. A small amount of people visits throughout the day — usually in groups of two or three to ensure compliance with ongoing public health orders.

“Having people come into the church to pray helps them because they are enriching their relationship with God, but it is also helping me as it is a way for me to stay connected to them.”

When churches will re-open is uncertain. The Government of Alberta unveiled a three-stage relaunch strategy on April 31. Retail outlets, restaurants and personal service establishments such as hair salons could be able to resume operations as early as May 14.

If stage one proves successful, stage two will enable public gatherings of more than 15 people.  Infante eagerly awaits the day when the bell outside St. Mary’s Church can ring loud to signal a celebration is about to begin indoors.

“It will excite me so much when I see everyone gathered for Mass or coffee on Sunday. I will also be excited to visit the schools with my youth co-ordinator to be with the students and teachers. It will be wonderful to return to normal in our spiritual, sacramental and social life.”

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