By Tony DeGol
Anyone who spends even a few minutes with Monica Barlick would probably notice there is a void in her life these days.
She misses attending Mass and receiving Jesus Christ through the Eucharist.
She is coping by immersing herself in private prayer and looking at the daily scripture readings. Most importantly, she is not giving up hope.
“Throughout history, we’ve been through a lot, and our faith has gotten us through,” reminded Barlick, a member of Our Lady of the Alleghenies Parish in Lilly. “Just continue to pray at home if you can find a little spot by yourself. If not, just enjoy your families and offer it up as a prayer.”
Like other Catholics, Barlick is trying to adapt to this “temporary normal” in the Church, which includes the suspension of all public Masses and other liturgical and social activities.
The current situation is especially disheartening for those engaged in the Christian Initiation process in parishes and other faith communities throughout the diocese this Lent. The candidates and catechumens were scheduled to enter full communion in the Church during the Easter Vigil.
Their initiation will happen as soon as possible after the suspension of public Masses is lifted. Until then, they are waiting patiently.
“Obviously this delay in being brought into full communion with the Church is a little discouraging and definitely disappointing, but I know that this period of break where we won’t have Mass or be confirmed or have other public events is definitely for the best as it is keeping everyone safe,” explained candidate Nathan Christman, a Junior at Penn State University. “We all just need to pray and draw closer to God, and we’ll get through this.”
Catholic schools in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown are certainly making the best out of a frustrating situation. Despite not physically gathering for class in their school buildings for the past week, Catholic education is humming along thanks to digital platforms the schools already had in place.
“In a situation like this, it allows learning to continue with no gaps,” explained Deacon Donald Gibboney, a teacher at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Altoona.
Educators and students are using technology that is accessible through laptop computers, iPads, or smart phones. Teachers are able to post videos with instructions. Students can see assignments, complete them, and turn them in digitally.
“I’m really proud of our school, administration, co-workers, and students for being able to pick up in this new and different environment and be able to thrive and do as well as they are,” added Deacon Gibboney, who teaches Old Testament, Catholic Identity, and Church History. “It has been a very positive experience.”
Distance learning is also happening at colleges and universities around the diocese. During this time, campus ministry leaders are encouraging students and faith groups to stay connected through options such as Zoom audio or video conferencing.
Lisa Baer, campus minister at Juniata College in Huntingdon, is continuing to use many tools she already had in place, such as weekly e-bulletins and social media, and she is eager to embrace other ways to spread the faith.
“It’s an exciting time to be creative and think outside of the box,” she said. “It’s going to be all of us across the nation trying to do something new.”
[Photo: An uplifting message outside of Saint John the Evangelist School in Bellefonte assuring that God is walking with us during the coronavirus pandemic.]