A Message by Cindy O’Connor
As a child, I remember hoping and praying that sometime between January and March we would have at least one snow day off of school to break up the long winter season. Children became excited to watch the television and listen to the radio for delays and cancelations. Parents temporarily had to shuffle their schedules to accommodate care for their children. When the snow fell the entire neighborhood bundled up and came out to shovel, make snow angels and snowmen.
I am reminded of those days. With the pandemic and the statewide stay at home order, every day has become a snow day. Shoppers frantically flock to stores that have sold out of or are limiting everyday groceries. Travel is limited. Everyone has a new phrase “practice social distancing.” It’s now normal to be at least 6 feet from others. Most teenagers have been practicing social distancing from family functions for years, they now gladly hide with their phones.
Senior citizens, persons with pre-existing conditions, and those recovering from other illnesses, are encouraged to isolate and stay home to stay healthy. Graduations, weddings, parties, and vacations have been cancelled or postponed. Schools are closed and many employers have temporarily shut their doors until further notice. One of the hardest directives to our community of faith is that we are unable to celebrate Mass with our parish families.
My family and I are learning to be with each other 24/7. Thankfully the season of spring provides us warmer weather and sunny days to be outside more. One of our daily routines is walking around our neighborhood, enjoying the warmer weather and sunshine. My children joke it is, “forced family fun,” but the giggles tell me, they too enjoy getting out. On our walks we wave to neighbors, from a distance, as they too are outside.
With today’s technology we are all thankful to be able to stay connected with video conferencing. While we can’t hug Grandma through our phone, we can let her know we love her. If we are able, our work now takes place at the kitchen table, alongside kids learning online.
Kudos to our Communications Director for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Tony DeGol. Tony works tirelessly to keep a sense of community to our faithful. Tony utilizes many social media platforms to communicate updates from Bishop Mark Bartchak, provides suggestions for prayers, devotions and positive messages during this time of separation. One of Bishop Mark’s consistent messages has been we must not forget that this is temporary and not to forget that faith over fear always perseveres.
We are all feeling vulnerable and frightened by the constant stream of news and orders to stay home and distance. We should never forget those in our community who don’t need a crisis like this to feel vulnerable and afraid, this is their daily life. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and an opportunity to learn about the signs of child abuse and how to prevent it. This year there will not be any in-person activities to promote Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month. We encourage you to visit our Youth Protection Awareness Website (https://youthprotection.dioceseaj.org/) for resources from many of our community partners and online training opportunities.
With the financial strains of little to no work, school closed and no social activities, tensions are increasing during these uncertain times. The isolation and distancing of people bring concern that neglect and abuse of children may increase. Should you suspect neglect or abuse of a minor (at any time) please call Pennsylvania’s ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313. This toll free number is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with caseworkers waiting to assist you. In case of an emergency dial 911 or call your local police and then contact the Child Abuse Hotline.
Please continue to model what a healthy relationship looks like, what respect is and how to respect each other, personal safety strategies, how to say no, and how to keep your child safe online. Remember our vulnerable persons during this health pandemic, checking to see if they have all they need. Take advantage of this extra time to teach your children daily life skills such as: how to do set a table, basic cooking skills, how to do laundry, and most of all how to pray and be faithful.
Our Heavenly Father is providing us time to grow, I pray that all find His peace through Our Savior, Lord Jesus. May God Bless and keep all of us, especially the most vulnerable, safe and healthy.
Cindy O’Connor is the Diocesan Director of Children and Youth Protection.