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Finding a Way, Priests Continue to Answer the Call Amid Church Closings

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When the Ohio Bishop’s Conference announced the suspension of public Masses to prevent the spread of COVID-19, things changed dramatically for both priests and parishioners. Although it was for a just cause, parishioners found themselves generally unable to receive the Eucharist and priests found their primary touch point with worshipers taken away.

It wasn’t just daily and Sunday Masses affected though. Baptisms, weddings, even funerals, had to be postponed or done with minimal congregations. Priests suddenly had a new task: to reach parishioners in an age of social distancing.

Finding Connection
Father Kyle Schnippel, pastor of Corpus Christi and St. John Neumann in Cincinnati, went digital. The tech savvy priest began streaming daily and Sunday Masses on YouTube, and emailing bulletins to all parishioners with a personal note from him or a staff member. He’s managed to keep youth ministry engaged with video conferencing and each day he publishes a short video with a message of hope and inspiration.

“It has been really difficult,” said Father Schnippel. “Luckily, [during Mass] I have two seminarians helping me and they provide the responses. But as a strong extrovert, I feed off the energy of the congregation, so to speak, so to look up and only see lights and a computer screen have been quite the drastic change. I’m slowly adapting to it, but I certainly don’t like it.”

Father Schnippel isn’t the only priest live-streaming Mass. More than 50 Archdiocese of Cincinnati parishes are doing so.*

Combating Social Isolation
Father Schnippel has also been dealing with the effects of social isolation and the change from how things used to be.

“The biggest adjustment has been that my life tended to go a mile a minute before, and now it is just way different, especially in having to use technology to stay in contact with folks,” he said. “I’m still getting out for ministry calls as necessary, but they seem to be a bit fewer right now. As mentioned earlier, with more downtime, I’m trying to add to the parish YouTube channel and just generate content so that parishioners know we are still here and we miss them.”

Father Jacob Willig, parochial vicar of the East Side Region – which includes St. Cecilia, St. Margaret-St. John and St. Anthony, said his parish is utilizing a number of tools to stay in contact with the flock.

“We are reaching out to parishioners using phone and e-mail, social media, and postal mail too. It is amazing how powerful a call can be,” Father Willig said. “And so important for all of us to reach out to others at this time.”

Stepping Up for Sick Calls
Father Willig, 36, was ordained to the priesthood in 2018. Knowing that severe complications from the coronavirus are more likely to effect older people, he hopes to be able to do more sick call visits, alleviating the burden from older priests. He has been on two sick visits since hospitals began taking preventative measures, but said neither were related to the virus.

“I do see an added responsibility in stepping up to do the work for some of the older priests,” he said. “They should not place themselves in any unnecessary risk, so I need to be ready and willing to serve. Also, I know Father Jamie Weber, our pastor, definitely feels some of the burden of caring for our elderly parishioners and protecting them. This is something on our minds
continually.”

Father Schnippel has also been on sick calls in recent weeks, taking every precaution to avoid getting sick or bringing the virus to those in his care.

“I keep a mask in my car and put it on prior to entering the room,” he said. “Also, I hit the sanitizer before and after. But I also try to not let it get in the way of the ministry that we
have to do. I’ve also been working with Mercy Fairfield Hospital to make sure that proper safeguards are in place if I get called there to anoint or care for someone with the virus. We do the
best we can in these situations, and ministry still has to continue.”

Priests know their parishioners are suffering, but Father Willig said there is still hope in the end.

“God will see us though,” he said. “For all of us really, life is short. This is a time when we can realize that God is really the one who is always in control. When we try to be in control too much, we will fall short and fall into fears or desperation. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. Our God is the one who created us, He is the one who loves us, and he holds us in existence out of His great love. May we cast our worries upon Him and Place our Trust in Jesus Christ.”

*For the full list of streaming Masses, visit TheCatholicTelegraph.com.

Father Kyle Schnippel (r), Father Jacob Willig  (l)
Father Kyle Schnippel (r), Father Jacob Willig (l)

 

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