November 13, 2020

New website hopes to help and connect Catholics and parishes amid COVID crisis

Some of the buttons on the new COVID resource page are shown above; they are designed to help parish leaders learn about some of the good ideas that others are implementing to help reach out to their members during the ongoing pandemic. (Screenshot)

Some of the buttons on the new COVID resource page are shown above; they are designed to help parish leaders learn about some of the good ideas that others are implementing to help reach out to their members during the ongoing pandemic. (Screenshot)

By John Shaughnessy

Sometimes the connection continues through an extra effort—like the one Father Chris Wadelton has led at St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus.

During the coronavirus crisis, the parish has strived to call its parishioners, checking to see how they’re doing and if they have any needs or prayer requests.

Sometimes the connection continues with a creative touch during the crisis—like Msgr. Joseph Schaedel sharing a weekly podcast with members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, informing them about what’s happening in the school and the parish.

In that same spirit of concern and creativity, the archdiocese recently unveiled a new website to help Catholics and parishes across central and southern Indiana cope, share ideas and stay connected to their faith as they deal with the challenges of the continuing COVID-19 crisis. The website is www.archindy.org/covid.

“We don’t have all the answers, but we do know people are doing extraordinary things in some of our parishes to reach out to people,” says Msgr. William F. Stumpf, vicar general of the archdiocese and a member of the archdiocese’s pastoral task force that led to the creation of the website.

“This is a way to get information before all our parish leadership, both cleric and lay, to say, ‘Here’s a resource to look at.’ Right now, they don’t have a forum to really collectively come together and talk about the struggles they’re experiencing and the solutions that are coming forth.”

The idea for the website developed after the task force distributed a survey to parishes across the archdiocese, asking about the impact of COVID-19 on the parish’s outreach and engagement in its community. Nearly 95% of the responses indicated that their parish has been challenged by the coronavirus crisis to some degree.

From that survey, the task force created a list of the parishes’ top concerns, leading to a focus on three major ones, according to Msgr. Stumpf.

Actually, he views two of the three as tied for the top concern: isolation of Catholics, particularly among the elderly; and keeping people connected to their faith during this extended time when there’s a dispensation for the obligation to attend the public celebration of the Mass on Sundays.

After those two, there’s the concern involving finances and resources for the programs, agencies and ministries that serve people in need in parishes across the archdiocese.

“The financial part is important, but it’s not nearly as important as helping people to stay connected to their faith,”

Msgr. Stumpf says. “We’re such a sacramental Church, and if people can’t participate in the Eucharist, that’s a huge, huge loss. So they have to find other ways so they feel connected.”

Msgr. Stumpf credited this initiative to Theresa Chamblee, director of social concerns for the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities.

“COVID is a disaster like no other that we have experienced in our lifetime,” Chamblee says. “What makes recovery even more difficult is that we do not know an end date for COVID. It became apparent quickly that COVID was very pervasive in affecting our physical, mental and spiritual health.

“At the heart of so many of our concerns is fear. Fear for our families, fear for our future, fear of the unknown.

But that is where the beauty of our Gospel comes into play. We are given this beautiful commandment of love. God promises us that when we love him and we love our neighbor, that we are going to be OK. Even better than OK, we will have eternal life. This is when we get the opportunity to lift each other up when the other is feeling weak.”

Wanting to help with the concerns of parishes, the first step for the pastoral task force was to reach out to these faith communities, starting by making phone calls to people involved in outreach ministries.

The survey of parishes across the archdiocese was another step toward a “better understanding of how we can support and encourage each other,” Chamblee says.

“The impact is great, but what I am not surprised about is how resilient we are as parish communities,” she says. “There is some wonderful out-of-the-box thinking that is taking place within our parishes in regard to parish engagement—both spiritual and community engagement. But, unless you are a member of that parish, these wonderful ideas tend to stay with that parish.

“Not to sound cliché, but we really are all in this together. The more we can share and encourage each other in ministry, the more the light of Christ becomes brilliant in shining hope, healing and comfort to each other.”

The website is designed to offer that connection, that direction for Catholics across the archdiocese, Msgr. Stumpf says.

“It’s really the right endeavor,” he says. “They are ways we can help people stay connected to their faith community, to feel that their faith community is concerned about them, and that they’re valued and they’re important, and we don’t want to lose them.

“We don’t want them to slip away.” †

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