Sisters of Saint Joseph of Annecy

From Blessed Sacrament and St John Lloyd Parishes in Cardiff.

Almost overnight, parish life was changed beyond anyone’s imagination. Suddenly there was the realisation that all the normal activities were in abeyance and even the Churches were closed and there would be no communal worship even for Easter. It presented a huge challenge to find new ways of outreach so that we wouldn’t lose touch.

One major concern was to ensure that people were safe and well and had food etc. The elderly in particular were lonely and needed companionship and a listening ear. With the aid of a few parishioners, we set up a network of phone calls across the two parishes, where each volunteer rang round to vulnerable parishioners and we helped out as best we could. The biggest need was that of a listening ear and most mornings are spent in that way on the phone – thank God for the free phone calls provided by one mobile network as their contribution!

We became very adept at giving phone instructions on setting up Facebook to watch the live streamed Masses and where to find the right page on the internet to follow Mass from far-flung places. Quite often I would be greeted with the words, “I went to Mass in Canada this morning or I went to Mass in my old parish Church in Ireland.” This was often followed by “But it’s not the same and no Holy Communion” and “I miss seeing people”.

Loneliness, isolation, fear and spiritual “famine” have been and still are very difficult. It’s very hard to console a bereaved person over the phone when all one wants to do is knock their door and give them a hug and a sympathetic smile. The housebound are still deprived of Holy Communion. Even though, on and off, we have had public Masses since the middle of July, home visits are not allowed, except for the dying. For many of the more active parishioners the fear is still so great that they have scarcely been outside their doors since mid-March and are just too afraid to come to Mass. Gradually our numbers are rising again to about a half or two-thirds of our normal average numbers but for many it may be a long time before they return. All the more need to keep in touch as best we can!

Another really good activity has been parcel deliveries. Thanks to a generous grant, we have been able to take food to families struggling due to furlough or redundancy, as well as small parcels of little luxuries such as chocolate or fruit for the lonely and isolated. For so many it wasn’t the contents that mattered so much as the fact that they were remembered and thought of.

We have suffered loss of income but parishioners have been very generous, often putting an anonymous donation through the letter box “To help with parcels” or “I can’t come but I’m sending my collection money because you still have to pay the bills”. We have even “invented” a week by week bazaar, with one stall a week in the garden instead of the usual big bazaar in the Church hall. This has got off to a good start and has given parishioners something else to think about.

At present we are having our regular Masses, with restricted seating to allow for social distancing- words like “bubbles” “stewards” and “sanitizer” have become everyday language even in our Church community! Other activities such as prayer groups, Baptism preparation, the tea and chat after the weekday Masses, or the first Friday Soup lunches, have not yet resumed but hopefully we will be up and running before too long.

There are other signs of life and hope. We have recently celebrated 16 First Holy Communions, (postponed since June) albeit in small batches, with no singing and everyone socially distanced. The celebrations certainly brought a sense of joy and hope for the future. Currently we are looking forward to celebrating Christmas, even if we can’t sing carols!

Yes, Covid is challenging us as parishes but personally I have found that it has also brought so much goodness, compassion and understanding. Yes, it’s hard but hopefully we can grow through this and develop into stronger communities with a greater sense of outreach and a deeper faith.

Sr Marie de Montfort, Rumney, working in the parish of Blessed Sacrament and the adjacent parish of St John Lloyd.