The camaraderie of LifeTeen and its programs, including music ministry, is missed because of COVID restrictions. Photo from Register files

Parishes deal with twist in same pandemic story

By  Kathleena Henricus, Youth Speak News
  • November 25, 2020

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has certainly not been kind to churches across Canada, with British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario public health agencies restricting in-person services for a second time due to the unrelenting second wave.

Parishioners young and old from coast-to-coast have shared testimony about how quarantining from church has been a struggle. Msgr. Owen Keenen, pastor at Merciful Redeemer Parish in Mississauga, Ont., says isolation was difficult for Church leaders to navigate the first time around. An entirely virtual Easter week underscored this difficult, enduring new reality.

“Easter was particularly sad,” said Keenan. “The Resurrection of Christ is the faith of Christians. There is no greater joy than celebrating the magnificent Easter Vigil with the community: the sumptuous prayers, the beautiful readings, the welcoming of new Catholics through Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist; proclaiming in the darkness with the sole splendid Easter candle that ‘Christ is our Light.’ ”

Keenan and his associate pastors, Frs. Suresh Xavier and Thomas Kluger, are again experiencing the contradiction of feeling sad during a time of great celebration in our faith as Advent begins. As of Nov. 23, churches across the region have shut their doors as four weeks of restrictions have been enacted to try to stem the spread of COVID-19. So it’s back to a virtual Church.

“While virtual is important, ours is an incarnate faith. God took on human flesh, and therefore being together to adore and praise God, to offer Him our communal worship, to sing and pray and to receive His incarnate self in the Eucharist is essential. Virtual can only do so much,” he said.

Teenage Catholics at Merciful Redeemer — and across Canada — have suffered as much as any group during the pandemic. Doing their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has meant separation from both their school and youth group friends.

The LifeTeen (Grades 9-12) and Edge (Grades 6-8) programs at Merciful Redeemer are strong Catholic youth brands and gatherings continued via Zoom during the early months of the pandemic. Just as it was becoming safer for these young Catholics to meet in person again, cases started to spike, and youth ministries across the board once again had to shift to a virtual presentation.

With the new restrictions, in-person LifeTeen and Edge are once again shut down but will be offered virtually two Saturdays per month.

Keenan said he and his team at Merciful Redeemer chose during the first lockdown, and still choose in light of another lockdown, to remain hopeful, both in the Lord and in the strength of the community as Christmas season draws near.

Keenan says every avenue must be taken to share the Good News.

“Pandemic or no pandemic, Jesus is Lord. We are always in need of His mercy. And He is always merciful.”

(Henricus, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Cawthra Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont.)

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