By Tony DeGol
It was likely the first time Father Brian Saylor might have wanted to wear a parka while hearing Confessions.
The Pastor of Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Altoona was among several priests around the diocese who could be found celebrating the Sacrament outdoors on this chilly March Saturday.
Various priests opted for the al fresco alternative as a safer way to meet the needs of those seeking Reconciliation amid this coronavirus pandemic.
“So here we are, we set up our chairs, we have our six feet of distance and our screen for people who want to go anonymously,” Father Saylor said. “I think it’s a good thing to offer people. At least they have the opportunity this Lent.”
Within the first 15 minutes, three individuals showed up for the chance to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness, and a brisk breeze to boot.
Outdoor Reconciliation is just one example of the various ways priests are taking unique steps to meet the spiritual needs of parishioners during this time when public Masses are suspended.
Father Matthew Baum, Administrator of Prince of Peace Parish in Northern Cambria, is live streaming daily Masses and Friday Stations of the Cross on the parish’s Facebook page. The feeds are also streamed daily on the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown Facebook page.
“As soon as I got the announcement from the Bishop that all public Masses were to be cancelled, I thought to myself that we have to find a way to meet the needs of our people,” Father Baum said. “Since we already had an appropriate space set up at our parish, and a TV cart that we used for Religious Education in the next room, I thought if our parishioners can’t attend Mass physically, maybe they can attend Mass virtually.”
As Father Baum was testing the equipment, he aired a live video announcing he was considering the streaming, which drew much support. Way more people watched first Facebook live Mass on Tuesday evening, March 17 than would have attended Mass at the church at that time, Father Baum noted. Viewership since then is continuing to increase.
“I know the Lord manages to write straight with crooked lines, and I’ve been inspired by the number of people who have been away from the Church and haven’t been to Mass in years who have been virtually attending our streaming Mass,” Father Baum stated. “As we walk through this difficult time, I think we all realize that watching Mass isn’t the same as receiving the Eucharist, but I would encourage everyone to join in with a streaming or TV Mass during this time and to really participate.”
The diocese is committed to continue broadcasting the Sunday Mass on WATM ABC 23. Bishop Mark will celebrate the Liturgy from the Mary, Mother of the Church Pastoral Center in Altoona. Proclaim! will continue to air on WATM every Sunday at 10:30 a.m., and the Mass broadcast will follow at 11:00 a.m. The Liturgy will also continue to air every Sunday at 9:00 p.m. on Atlantic Broadband channel 9 and on the Diocesan Facebook and Twitter social media platforms. Audio of the Mass will be broadcast Sundays at 10:00 a.m. on WFBG AM 1290.
Father Neil Dadey and Father Jonathan Dickson, Pastor and Parochial Vicar respectively at Our Lady of Victory Parish in State College, are also among the priests taking advantage of technology. The two are posting regular video reflections on the OLV website and YouTube channel. Father Dickson describes the effort as “food for the journey” during this Lenten season.
“It’s important to us that we continue to reach out to you so that you know that we really do care about your souls, we really do care about your peace and well-being, and we really care about you very much,” assured Father Dickson in his inaugural video.
Monsignor Michael Becker, Pastor of Saint John the Evangelist Parish in Altoona, is also posting regular videos for his flock.
“This is not a time to be fearful, although we certainly want to be careful and attentive of what our government asks us to do to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Monsignor Becker relayed in his first message. “I know we can do this, and we need to stay connected to one another even if it is virtually.”
Like other priests, Father Brian Warchola, Pastor of Holy Name Parish in Ebensburg, has set up a temporary chapel to celebrate daily Mass and pray for his parishioners and others.
“The Eucharist is still being celebrated, and an infinite amount of good is still taking place throughout the Church and for all people,” he reminded. “I’m keeping in mind every person in the world – all those who are suffering, all those who are anxious and scared, all people. It’s a time for us to realize that God is with us, and we have the opportunity to turn to prayer at this time. Jesus Christ is with us.”
[Photo: Father Brian Saylor prepares to hear outdoor Confessions at Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Altoona.]