A scene from the “Welcome Back” video produced by the Archdiocese of Toronto. Image from YouTube

‘Return to Mass’ campaign launched

  • March 10, 2022

The substantial loosening of public health protocols at places of worship around Canada — except, for now, B.C. — has made it possible to manifest the Catholic Mass that existed before COVID-19. But senior clergy know it will take time to restore parishes to pre-pandemic vibrancy. 

“The pandemic has been a long, stressful time for many and we should expect that the faithful will have different responses to the removal of COVID restrictions, ranging from joy to fear,” wrote Archbishop of Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins at the end of February. “Concerns, and even conflict, may arise as these restrictions are removed. I also acknowledge that clergy or staff will experience these same feelings.”

Dr. Josephine Lombardi, associate professor of systematic and pastoral theology at St. Augustine’s Seminary of Toronto, said supporting parishioners who feel immunocompromised or fearful of COVID-19 will be a priority for clergy. 

“I sense some are concerned about exposure, especially now that we are allowed to have full capacity,” said Lombardi, who also serves as the seminary’s director of lay spiritual formation. “I think there needs to be a bit of outreach to see who is attending. I have heard that the priest or volunteers of certain parishes are phoning parishioners to connect as they did during the lockdowns.”

Jim Milway, the Archdiocese of Toronto’s chancellor for temporal affairs, sent a memo to all 225 member parishes on March 3 with instructions on executing mass mail (e-mail or snail mail) or robocall campaigns if they choose.

Milway’s document contains a sample letter priests may utilize. In addition to assuring parishioners that pastoral staff are “doing our best to make sure you feel safe and welcomed,” the letter reminds the recipients that “participation in the Sunday Eucharist is the central experience of the week.”

This proposed letter includes a hyperlink to a welcome back video published by the archdiocese on it YouTube channel (youtube.com/c/archtoronto)

Mark Brosens, the archdiocese’s interim director of communications and public relations, said that while the archbishop’s office can offer resources and guidance, priests need to implement an engagement plan that appeals to their respective congregations. 

“We think parish priests are the best people to welcome the faithful back because they have a relationship with the parishioners, and they will be most excited to see parishioners return,” wrote Brosens in an e-mail to The Catholic Register

If this mail or broadcast invite to Sunday Mass does not entirely assuage immunocompromised or worried parishioners, Lombardi recommends a weekday alternative.

“Maybe their in-person Mass can be the Tuesday noon, Wednesday evening or Friday service, for now, until they feel comfortable. That way, depending on the parish, you may only have 30 or 40 people there for daily Mass. You can spread yourself out, but feel like you are connected to the community.”

Lombardi said churches should emphasize the importance of gathering together in person for fellowship. 

“There is a need to stand in fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for one another. We bring our own burdens to the altar, we pray for our family members knowing that there are others worth walking with us.”

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