One of the big changes during the pandemic has been the increased reliance on food banks. Michael Swan

Caring is COVID’s message of hope

By 
  • November 18, 2020

As Canada goes over 11,000 COVID deaths and 300,000 cases — with medical professionals calling for “circuit breaker” shut-downs and Canada’s largest archdiocese having to cancel public Masses in "lockdown" areas — the Church has to respond with unflinching concern for the common good, said Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Archbishop Richard Gagnon.

“No one says this is easy, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s fatiguing for sure,” Gagnon, the archbishop of Winnipeg, said.

Already a week into a full shutdown that has shuttered churches in Manitoba, Gagnon emphasized that Catholics have to put the interests of others ahead of self-interest.

“It’s a practice of faith, charity and justice — prudence. It’s a practice of concern for others. It has to do with a mutual health issue. That’s important,” he said. “From our Christian perspective, that’s a matter of charity, love of neighbour and even social justice. We always keep our eye on the bigger picture.”

In the Archdiocese of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins announced Nov. 20 that public Masses in Toronto and Peel Region were being temporarily cancelled in the wake of new restrictions announced by the Ontario government. The province put a 10-person limit for inside churches, including those serving in ministry or staff.

The directives from the archdiocese replaces one from just three days earlier when it put its own new restrictions on church capacity in Toronto, Peel and York regions that limited attendance to 50 worshipers and any liturgical celebration. Previously it operated at 30 per cent of church capacity.

While the situation is “extremely challenging,” Collins said, “we must also be mindful of our primary concern — our love of neighbour and our collective need to reduce the potential transmission of COVID-19.”

Bishop Ron Fabbro, president of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, said the pandemic should draw Catholics out of themselves.

“The pandemic has just heightened the reality that we have in our province of being very isolated. People are even more isolated now,” said the London, Ont., bishop. “We can be examples of service to our brothers and sisters. How important that is.”

From meeting space for AA groups to community kitchens serving take-away meals and parishes organizing to support local women’s shelters, Catholics are responding to the COVID-19 crisis in a wide variety of ways, said Fabbro.

“Our retreat centre, which isn’t taking retreatants at this time, has made its rooms available to our refugee office — for refugees who are coming into the country and need a place to stay (through the 14-day quarantine),” said Fabbro.

It’s hard to look at the big picture of the pandemic and imagine Catholics fighting for their self-interest, Fabbro said.

“My hope is that during this pandemic we become much more sensitive to the people around us,” he said. “We need to be there for one another. Maybe we’ve learned that we’re not as independent as we thought we were. But we need to really be there for our brothers and sisters, as Pope Francis says, and walk with them.”

That outward focus can’t stop at Canada’s borders, said Development and Peace parish representative Michael Leblanc in a video message to promote the organization’s Nov. 15 Recovering Together collection.

“The virus has taught us how interconnected the human family is. It has taught us that we cannot recover alone,” said Leblanc, who heads up Development and Peace efforts at Holy Family Cathedral in Saskatoon.

Focus is shifting in Toronto to record food bank use. Two of the largest food banks, Daily Bread and North York Harvest, report that demand at food banks had increased by 22 per cent by June and by 51 per cent in August compared to the previous year. The two organizations, which supply local parish and community food banks, expect this year will have the highest number of food bank visits in Toronto history.

(NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect changes in the Ontario restrictions announced Nov. 20)

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