COVID-19 vaccines coming to Sacred Heart Church, Danbury

DANBURY—Sacred Heart Church, in partnership with Griffin Health, the Department of Public Health and the City of Danbury, will be offering COVID-19 vaccinations every Wednesday in May from 3-7 pm.

Sacred Heart Church is located at 12 Cottage Street Danbury, CT 06810.

(For more information, call 211 or visit For guests who are deaf or hard of hearing, call 711.)

Technology grant is life-saver for Blessed Sacrament

BRIDGEPORT—When Father Skip Karcsinski looks back on the challenges Blessed Sacrament Church confronted during the COVID lockdown, he says they would have been insurmountable if his parish did not receive a grant from Foundations in Faith to overhaul its technology and communications systems.

So many problems that had been endurable before quickly reached crisis proportions with the pandemic, or as Father Skip puts it, “COVID changed everything.”

The parish phone system was completely outdated and couldn’t receive or leave messages. A former employee, now deceased, who had worked at the church 18 years ago had recorded the prompts … and nothing had changed in almost 20 years.

Because the outdated parish technology was linked together, Blessed Sacrament needed a complete overhaul of the phones, alarm system, office computers, software, Internet, doorbells, security system and cameras…not to mention the website. In addition, the pandemic made it necessary to live-stream services and conduct religious education classes online with Zoom. The list was a long one, and the project took nine months.

“That’s how bad our situation was,” he recalls. “They asked me, ‘How can you possibly function like this?’ You see, we are a very hands-on parish, and our people prefer to visit in person rather than use the phone. We functioned well enough until COVID. This grant changed everything. It was providential and allowed us to continue to serve our people during very difficult circumstances.”

Blessed Sacrament is the first church in the Diocese of Bridgeport to receive the Francis Xavier Technology & Communication Enhancement Grant for missionary parishes, from Foundations in Faith, which is supported by the We Stand With Christ Campaign.

Kelly Weldon, director of Foundations in Faith, said: “This was a huge success for us. The Blessed Sacrament team dug deep and embraced technology and all the learning and changes that go along with a significant upgrade. They were willing to step out of their comfort zone and the results speak for themselves.”

Weldon said that because of the pandemic, pastors had to shift gears quickly and embrace a lot of new technology that would let them connect with their parishioners and bring Mass into their homes. Those who had never before filled out an online form suddenly found themselves live-streaming Mass to hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

“Our parishes with financial burdens—our missionary parishes—did not have the technology they needed to do this,” she said. “And Joe Sindelar, vice chairman of Foundations in Faith and the board advocate of the St. Francis Xavier Fund, recognized the importance of getting Mass live-streamed everywhere in the diocese.”

The project was undertaken by Liz Tamarkin and her company Newfound Consulting LLC, which assessed the scope of the upgrade and implemented the changes with the parish team.

“Each grant application begins with an in-depth interview to get to know the parish community, how they like to communicate, and understand where the parish is currently with their technology infrastructure and use,” Tamarkin said. “I have been amazed at how these pastors push forward with things like phone systems that haven’t worked in years, staff members without computers, or a church with a broken sound system. The SFX Fund allows these burdens to be lifted and makes it easier for the pastors and their administrative team to serve their community.”

Father Skip said everything that interfered with the life of the parish because of COVID was greatly remedied by the grant and the new technology.

“We even had a couple of Zoom retreats, which have been great fun, and the children are still receiving religious education online, which is overseen by Karen Soares-Robinson our director of religious education,” he said.

And while the children adapted quickly to the technological changes, Father Skip concedes that he and his staff “needed a lot of tutoring and mentoring and some personnel help, which the grant provided.”

The parish was also able to bring on a retired educator, Natalie Foust, to work with ParishSOFT, a church management software that interfaces with the diocese.

“We are coming along, and we needed a lot of patience,” he says, “so we’re very grateful to Liz and her team.”

Father Skip, who has been a priest 42 years and pastor for nine, said he is especially grateful for the grant from Foundations in Faith and the patience of the people who completed the work over a period of nine months.

“They were troopers,” he said. “It was more involved and complicated than they anticipated.”

“I compliment the SFX committee on looking at a full approach to helping these parishes move forward, which includes training and support,” Tamarkin said. “They understand that putting new hardware in place will only benefit the parish if the pastor and staff understand how to integrate it into their daily use. They also understand that ongoing training and support allows the parish team to grow in their use of the technology. I’ve really enjoyed seeing eyes light up when a team member learns how much time their new skills are going to save them or how to collaborate with their team to work together.”

And what about that antiquated phone system?

Tamarkin said that the new phone system allows people to call at any time and get the information they need from the auto-attendant on everything from Mass and Confession times to cancelations and parish events, in both English and Spanish. They can also leave messages for the parish staff, which is especially important when office hours are limited.

Tamarkin and her team have now begun work at St. George Church in Bridgeport, which will be followed by St. Mary of Stamford Parish.

The St. Francis Xavier grants are available to “missionary parishes,” which Weldon defined as those that are vibrant in their communities with strong pastoral and lay leadership, and excellent ministries and outreach. They are in urban environments and dealing with socioeconomic burdens.

“We are in constant contact with our missionary parishes about their needs,” Weldon said. “When they express a need that falls under technology and communications, the program is explained to them. This is so important because every pastor and every parish deserves to have the same quality and ability to connect with parishioners and share the good news about the work they are doing.”

Weldon urges anyone who would like to donate or support the St. Francis Xavier Technology & Communication Grants or other initiatives of Foundations in Faith to contact her at

Diocese offers help to apply for FEMA aid for COVID burials

TRUMBULL—The Diocese of Bridgeport is reaching out to the families who had a loved one die of COVID-19 last year to let them know they can receive up to $9000 for related funeral expenses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We see this as an opportunity to reach out to the families of the 1600 people we buried last year to inform them,” said Dean Gestal, the Director of Catholic Cemeteries. “We can identify 350 we know died of COVID, and there are obviously many more who will be able to recoup some money for funeral expenses and burials.”

In addition, a letter will go out from Bishop Frank J. Caggiano for pastors to read and publish in their parish bulletins, announcing the FEMA program.

Gestal’s office is also sending letters to the 1600 families that buried a loved one in the Catholic cemeteries during 2020 to explain the requirements to obtain the financial assistance.

He said the Catholic Cemeteries Office of the Diocese of Bridgeport is available to assist with any burial information required to file for this assistance, as well as discuss and plan for future needs. (For more information, visit: or call the Catholic Cemeteries office at 203.416.1494 or email

The new FEMA program provides up to $9,000 for COVID-19 related funeral expenses incurred between January 20, 2020 and December 31, 2020.

You must meet the following conditions to be eligible:

  • The death must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.
  • The death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19.
  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020. (There is no requirement for the deceased person to have been a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien).

FEMA will reimburse families up to $9,000 for COVID-related funeral and burial costs; however, different factors will determine who is eligible to receive the full amount or a portion of the funds.

Before applications open up in April, FEMA recommends those who may be eligible gather the following documentation:

  • An official death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the U.S., including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. (You can obtain one by contacting the State Vital Records Office or vital records office where the death occurred. Sometimes a cemetery, funeral home, or a third-party provider can also request this information).
  • Documents that detail funeral expenses, such as receipts, cemetery contract, funeral home contract, etc. They must include the applicant’s name, the deceased person’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and the dates the funeral expenses were incurred.
  • Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs. FEMA will not duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government agencies or other sources.

Chrism Mass and Mass of the Lord’s Supper to be live-streamed

BRIDGEPORT– For the second year in a row, the bishop’s Triduum Masses and liturgies will be live-streamed from the St. Augustine Cathedral in Bridgeport.

On Holy Thursday April 1, the bishop will celebrate the Chrism Mass—10 am and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7 pm. Both Masses will be lived streamed on the diocesan website.

The Chrism Mass is celebrated to bless the holy oils that are used in the sacraments throughout the year, and to strengthen the bond between the bishop and his priests. During the Mass the bishop leads the Renewal of Priestly Promises with a series of questions. Deacons and religious are also in attendance.

The bishop also blesses the Oil of the Catechumens, the Oil of the Infirm and the Holy Chrism (a mixture of olive oil and balsam used in ordinations and confirmation).

In his online Mass for Palm Sunday, Bishop Caggiano said “Holy Week invites us to reenact the great mysteries of our faith, and to remember that what was begun in the Upper Room is the same sacrifice Jesus offers his believers today.”

This year’s Masses will also permit in-person attendance. However, registration is advance is required for all those who wish to attend, and seating remains limited as a result of Covd-19 safety restrictions.

Bishop’s Live-Streamed Holy Week Masses:

Holy Thursday—April 1
Chrism Mass—10 am
Mass of the Lord’s Supper—7 pm

Good Friday—April 2
Celebration of the Passion of the Lord
3 pm

Easter Vigil Mass—April 3
Mass—8 pm

St. Augustine Cathedral is located at 399 Washington Avenue in Bridgeport. Anyone interested in attending in person must register on the Cathedral website:

For online viewing, visit the diocese website:

New FEMA Program offers relief for COVID-related Funeral Expenses

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program is providing financial assistance of up to $9,000 for COVID-19 related funeral expenses incurred between January 20, 2020 and December 31, 2020.

To be eligible for the assistance, you need to meet the following conditions:

  • The death must have occurred in the U.S., including the US territories and the District of Columbia.
  • The death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19.
  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020. (There is no requirement for the deceased person to have been a US citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien.)

FEMA states they will reimburse families up to $9,000 for COVID-related funeral and burial costs. It isn’t yet clear what factors will determine who is able to receive the full amount, or a portion of the available funds.

Before applications open up in April, FEMA recommends those who may be eligible gather the following documentation:

  • An official death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the U.S., including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. (You can get one by contacting the state or county vital records office. Sometimes a cemetery, funeral home, or a third-party provider can also request this for you.)
  • Funeral expenses documents (receipts, cemetery contract, funeral home contract, etc.) that include the applicant’s name, the deceased person’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and the dates the funeral expenses happened.
  • Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs. FEMA is not able to duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government agencies or other sources.

Find out more information about this program directly at the FEMA website.

The Catholic Cemeteries Office of the Diocese of Bridgeport is available to assist with any burial information required to file for this assistance, as well as discuss and plan for your future needs.

(For more information visit:

Vaccinations lead to ‘busy and joyous day’ at St. Charles

BRIDGEPORT—Approximately 100 Bridgeport residents received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine (Moderna) today through a joint effort between St. Vincent’s Medical Center and the Diocese of Bridgeport.

St. Vincent’s Medical set up a mobile a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for St. Charles Borromeo Church parishioners at the nearby McGivney Community Center, which share the East Side location with the parish.

Parishioners pre-registered for the event, which was held from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm. St. Vincent’s will also provide virtual registrars who help additional parishioners to make an appointment online.

“Our mission as a Catholic Church is to save souls and lives,” said Father Abelardo Vasquez, administrator, St. Charles Borromeo Church. “Today, there was a great response from the community.”

Bill Hoey, vice president of Mission Integration at St. Vincent’s Medical Center/Hartford HealthCare Fairfield Region, said that since its founding in 1903, St. Vincent’s Medical Center has a history of bringing much needed medical services into the community.

“As part of the Bridgeport Diocese, we are eager to bring the vaccine to parishioners of Catholic Churches located in areas of Bridgeport that have disproportionately low rates of vaccination,” he said.

Hoey said the event, and others like it, is part of a concerted effort to eliminate barriers to access and achieve more equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Father Abelardo said the clinic made it possible “to help four different communities with these vaccines,” explained Father Abelardo, referring to the Haitian, Hispanic, Portuguese and African American communities who all attend St. Charles Borromeo Church.

Father Abelardo explained that there was originally some hesitation surrounding the vaccine, because it is so new, but that he was able to make personal phone calls and speak about the importance of getting vaccinated at Mass.

“Once we were working from the pulpit, parishioners were able to trust that the vaccine can be trusted,” Father Abelardo said.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive, says Lorraine Gibbons, executive director of the Cardinal Shehan Center and McGivney Community Center, “from members of the church, the McGivney staff who were vaccinated, to the general public.”

“Individuals were excited and truly looking forward to being vaccinated, she said, explaining that she received text messages from individuals who saw the media coverage and wanted to learn how they could go about being vaccinated. “The vaccine clinic was a true community partnership with the church, the diocese, Hartford Healthcare-St. Vincent’s Medical Center and a local Community Center, to help provide access to an underrepresented community that is often overlooked- for this I’m truly grateful!”

“Working in community with St. Vincent’s and Hartford Health, we were able to distribute these vaccines to the parish community, and we are so grateful for that,” said Father Abelardo. “It was a very busy day, but it was a joyous one.”

Mega Vaccine Site at SHU

WRCH radio morning show personality Michael Stacy hasn’t seen his work colleagues in more than a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

He’s hoping that will change after getting his COVID-19 shot at the new St. Vincent’s Medical Center vaccine clinic at Sacred Heart University, which opened Wednesday in Fairfield.

“I’m excited,” Stacy said as he waited to get vaccinated. “Like a lot of people I’ve been home, I might sometimes go to the grocery store, but I’d like to get back into a more normal life. I really miss the people.”

Stacy, who was born at St. Vincent’s and attended Sacred Heart, wasn’t the only one excited at the grand opening press conference. WTNN, News 8, Chief Political Anchor Dennis House said he was never a big fan of needles, but he had a mild case of COVID-19 and his attitude about vaccines has changed.

“I think the vaccine is going to be excellent,” said House before he was vaccinated. “I encourage you all to get it.”

The Sacred Heart mega site is Hartford HealthCare’s latest vaccine mega clinic to open its doors. For a full listing, click here.

Hartford HealthCare Fairfield Region President Vince DiBattista said the vaccine clinic is the latest way St. Vincent’s Medical Center and its partners are combatting coronavirus, which hit Fairfield County hard last year.

“It’s appropriate that we are starting this vaccine clinic at the former headquarters of GE, and for those of you who remember their slogan — ‘We bring good things to life’ — that’s exactly what we are looking to do here by providing vaccinations and being part of the national focus on combating this pandemic,” DiBattista said.

Sacred Heart University President and HHC Fairfield Region Board Chair John Petillo, PhD, said Sacred Heart and Hartford HealthCare share common missions when it comes to serving the community, and the vaccine clinic is just another example of that.

Fairfield County First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchik said “this is a huge, huge resource for the community.”

Rodney Davis, 22, St. Vincent’s first COVID patient, is a firsthand example of community need, and he was on hand to spread a message of positivity and hope.

“They (St. Vincent’s) saved my life,” Davis said. “And they saved the lives of others.”

USCCB on Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

WASHINGTON– On March 2, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine recently approved for use in the United States.

“The approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in the United States again raises questions about the moral permissibility of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines.

“Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production.  The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.[1] However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.

“While we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.”

For further details, we refer people to our earlier December 2020 statement, to our Answers to Key Ethical Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines, to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s Note, and to the statement of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Credit: USCCB

Emotional, psychological toll of pandemic

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The psychological and emotional trauma of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is only now beginning to be felt, and is bound to keep affecting American workers for some time to come.

“The other virus that we’re dealing with is fear,” said Jesuit Father Thomas Florek, part of the Hispanic-Latino formation development team at the University of Detroit Mercy, during a Feb. 24 webinar sponsored by the Catholic Labor Network, “Ministering to Workers in the Time of COVID.”

“Right now, it’s a very vicious circle. I see the deaths as a kind of holocaust for the 21st century,” said Father Florek, who accompanied human rights workers recently in Mexico. “People don’t have to die; decisions have been made, structures have allowed half a million people in this country to die.”

“We’ve had so many Catholic workers coming into the office looking for assistance. Also, for emotional and spiritual support,” said Father Patrick Besel, a chaplain at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. “I probably spent more time last year with staff than with patients. There was so much stress.”

During the webinar, roughly two dozen clergy got to hear firsthand from two workers.

After working 13 years as a guest service agent, Katyra Henderson Hill received a phone call from her employer the day her youngest son was graduating from eighth grade that she was being let go. “They offered a couple of thousand dollars for my severance package,” she said. “I sacrificed so much for my children, seeing them only on weekends.”

Now, “I haven’t paid my bills. My husband and I are separated. I’m unemployed, alone with three teenagers,” Henderson Hill said. “Being in quarantine with no job has tested my faith. Being depressed, dealing with children who are depressed. One of them ran away.”

She added, “I have no financial stability. I’m dealing with no insurance. I didn’t ask for COVID. I feel the government failed us. We didn’t ask to be laid off from our jobs.”

About the only bright spot, she said, was qualifying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to feed her family. Her old job paid $21 an hour; the only jobs she sees available now pay about $11 an hour, barely half as much.

“This building has been of no help,” said Cyntira Gilchrist of the management at the health care facility in Maryland where she has worked for the past five months.

“It’s discouraging for people who want to come to work. There’s no support from management or anything,” Gilchrist said. “We’re in there fighting tooth and nail for our patients trying to keep them safe, keep ourselves safe, with the lack of PPE (personal protective equipment). We have to wear our masks for almost a whole month at a time. No one should have to wear a mask for that long.”

She added, “We don’t have the time to be there for everyone like we’re used to,” saying the former caseload of 10 to 15 patients has jumped to 30. “Since COVID, people have been scared to come to work. I almost became one of the patients myself,” Gilchrist said. “My skin is wearing thin also. I just look for some kind of help.”

Henderson Hill, a Southern Baptist, said Bible apps have helped, adding that her kids have asked her, “Let’s pray, Mama.” “They ask me to pray. And that’s what’s been keeping me going,” she said, noting she has not been able to go to church since the pandemic started. “The pastor was my grandfather,” she added, “and he passed away.”

“I place everything in the blest hands,” said Gilchrist, who embraces Islam. “I try not to beat myself up when I can’t do any more. … I just put my head on the wheel and just pray.”

“We’re experiencing a big amount of insecurity of food. At Catholic Charities, we are reaching 10 million meals that we have served,” said Father Jon Pedigo, director for advocacy and community engagement for Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, California. “There are 12,000 folks that we’re supporting with free food through the parishes each week. We have been doing that each week since the lockdown.”

In San Jose alone, 40,000 to 50,000 people are being displaced, Father Pedigo said. “The undocumented low-income population have had threats to call on ICE to deport them if they don’t pay their rent,” he added, fuming at the discrimination faced by these renters. “You’re not supposed to evict people during this particular time,” he said, “yet landlords are preying.”

“How do we create a situation where if anyone in any one of these workplaces were called to present a discussion at a seminary, they would be welcome?” asked Sulpician Father Martin Burnham, a Baltimore archdiocesan priest and licensed psychotherapist.

He suggested reaching out to the local bishops “because the bishops talk among themselves,” but “how do we, as people on the ground in the dioceses, talk to bishops on the importance of these issues, and to the priests who are coming along and need to be trained in these issues? … Life in the seminary is not the alb I’m going to buy or height of my collar.”

Father Burnham said, “There are real, practical things that people are dealing with — life and death issues. The amount of anxiety and depression people are feeling is through the roof. And people are saying this is just the beginning.”

By  Mark Pattison | Catholic News Service

Lent during a pandemic brings new practices

CONNECTICUT—The season of Lent, often seen as a time of sacrifice, of giving up something, may just feel like too much to ask after a year of isolation, mask-wearing, and losses of friends or family members.

The season between Ash Wednesday and Easter represents Jesus’ 40 days fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry. But the tradition of self-denial and giving to others as a way of imitating Christ may just feel like too much right now, faith leaders say. Instead, those leaders say, Christians may need new ways to look at these 40 days and find new practices to deepen faith and give personal meaning to the season.

“I do think that Lent is a really great time for us to recognize that there really is … fatigue from sacrifice. We’ve given up hugs and we’ve given up visits to Grandma,” said Patrick Donovan, executive director of the Leadership Institute in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport.

“I think last year we were in such shock and we were in duck-and-cover mode. We experienced Lent and we didn’t realize it,” he said. In 2020, Ash Wednesday fell on Feb. 26, about two weeks before the country went into lockdown because of COVID-19.

After being afraid to go to the grocery store, learning to wear masks, living professional and social lives on Zoom, not being able to go to a movie or ballgame, “we’re just exhausted,” Donovan said.

“We are an impatient country … and we don’t like to sacrifice. We are a nation of excess, a people of excess,” he said. Lent is a time to pay attention to how faith is practiced, he said. The message can get lost if by giving up eating meat on Fridays but having shrimp instead.

Instead, Lent is about “eating simply and giving what you might have spent on dinner into the rice bowl for Catholic Relief Services, which is on the table,” he said.

Donovan said giving up something for Lent has actually brought his family spiritual gifts. Katie, 12, for instance, gave up watching YouTube, “which is huge for her,” he said. Their conversation was about “when you’re not doing YouTube, what are you going to be doing?” he said. “For Katie, it’s about filling it with something else, so she’s reading a book, she’s playing with the dog, she’s painting. … She’s not as distracted as she was.”

His 13-year-old son, Liam, shoveled a neighbor’s sidewalk, unasked, when it recently snowed. “He knew it was the right thing to do,” Donovan said. “I have to believe that the conversations we’re having at home about Lenten sacrifice motivated him to do that. It’s really a good time to really practice what we hope to be the rest of the year.”

Donovan’s Lenten practice has been aided by a new puppy, “getting up in the morning and spending 30, 40, 50 minutes outside in the cold in silence. … My Lenten practice right now is to keep that up but begin to fill it with prayer.”

“I think part of the challenge is this Lent is a call for innovation. We’ve got to get creative with our sacrifice,” using our time to do something like checking on a neighbor, he said.

The Rev. Mary Barnett, priest-in-charge of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity in Middletown, said the pandemic has been so hard on people that “sometimes we have a harder time feeling pleasure and finding some bit of that, and that too can be part of our relationship with God, and it’s not just giving things up.”

She suggested to “be good to yourself and really think about what’s good,” filling a need by spending time with a loved one.

“I feel like paying attention to the signals your body gives you rather than just your brain is really helpful,” Barnett said. “It’s important to listen to how sad we are and the losses we’ve had. It’s really hard.”

The Rev. Ryan Lerner, the chaplain at the St. Thomas More Chapel and Center at Yale University, said the pandemic has posed the question of “what does it mean to take up one’s cross … when the cross enters into our life in a way that we would not choose? … All of us have been asked to sacrifice or called to sacrifice in ways we never would have chosen or never would have imagined.”

But Lent gives us the opportunity of “letting go of those things that we sometimes cling to that clutter up our lives, to make room for God,” Lerner said.

Cultivating “a sacrificial spirit … frees us up. That is a positive thing,” Lerner said. “To be in dialogue with God, to recognize God’s presence in our lives and to give to others, whether it be our time, our attention, our prayers.”

Lerner and three others from St. Thomas More sprinkled ashes on people’s heads on Ash Wednesday. “The first real in-person thing we’ve done may be the only thing for the foreseeable future,” he said. Besides Yale students, faculty and staff, “we also had students from the University of New Haven and Southern who also came,” he said.

He said receiving ashes is more than just a tradition. “Go out with that ash on your forehead. How are you going to be ambassadors for Christ?” he said.

And he urges Christians to stay flexible and be present to opportunities to give to others. “It’s easy to be stuck to your calendar and your schedule,” he said.

Members of St. Thomas More also were given a Lenten kit including a booklet containing daily Scripture readings through Easter, a small jar of sand as a meditative tool, the Catholic Relief Services “rice bowl” for almsgiving and a copy of “Sacred Space for Lent 2021,” with daily prayers by the Irish Jesuits.

Aside from giving up something himself, which he doesn’t disclose, Lerner said he is praying throughout the day at the liturgically appointed times.

“As priests and religious, we make a promise to pray the liturgy of the hours. It’s very easy on a busy day to blast through it in the morning,” he said. “You’ve got to carve out a little bit of time during the day.”

The Rev. Joseph Marcello, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Trumbull, said this Ash Wednesday “had the biggest turnout in anyone’s memory. … It was hundreds and hundreds, probably well into the thousands,” he said.

Marcello used Q-tips to mark a cross in ashes on each person’s forehead. “Several people told me with tears in their eyes that this was the first time they had been back in church since the pandemic began,” he said.

Lent has given people the opportunity of “returning to a ritual that has been a constant in their lives, connected with people on a very deep level,” Marcello said.

“I think that as the pandemic subsides, as people get their vaccines, a lot of people are waiting for a tipping point, a moment to come back, and Ash Wednesday is the perfect time for that,” he said. “As we reapproach the normal that was taken from us a year ago, very few things connect with folks as deeply as Mass, liturgy, worship and prayer.”

The parish has had several “drive-through food drives. We have had an unbelievably strong response to those,” Marcello said. “We’ve delivered truckloads upon truckloads” of food, dry goods, baby supplies and other items, he said. “I’m just really encouraged to see that our parishioners, a goodly number of them, have not turned in on themselves, isolated, [but] have really stepped up.” Non-members also have dropped off items at the church, he said.

To the Rev. Ximena Diaz-Varas, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Torrington, Lent is an opportunity to perform “acts of kindness, being that person of God for others. … What is that thing that is going to help them be aware of the presence of God, which is basically what Lent is about.”

While it is good to make a sacrifice, “Giving up chocolate with nothing behind it is not going to make us closer to God,” she said. But small acts of kindness, such as reaching out to someone who lives alone, “will help us to see God working in this time, even in this pandemic, even in winter with storm after storm,” she said.

“I also have found that people are just on edge and we need to be kind to one another, and we need to be graceful with one another,” Diaz-Varas said. “Sometimes we feel we need to do huge things, but it really begins with our own heart. … If we all start with our heart we can change the world.”

The Rev. Frederick “Jerry” Streets, pastor of Dixwell Avenue United Church of Christ in New Haven, said parishioners have talked about “what it was they wanted to do for Lent,” trying new approaches to Bible study and prayer.

“They pray regularly, but they’re going to try to pray in a different way.” For some, “that meant getting on their knees, which they haven’t done in a long time,” he said.

“There’s a broader interest that people have in nurturing their sense of their spiritual life in the midst of such grief and sorrow and vulnerability,” Streets said. “The Lenten season has a way of making it more acute because of the emphasis on repentance and transformation.”

Streets said maintaining connections among parishioners, even if online, has been critical. He said he had been reading about the 1918 flu pandemic and “one of the things that was happening was that local newspapers … were publishing weekly meditations and sermons and spiritual advice.”

Now, he said, in addition to the weekly services on YouTube, there is Bible study and a general meeting in which people can share their experiences and information. At a recent meeting, “people were giving information about their COVID experience,” Streets said. “They were sharing their experience about overcoming their anxiety about getting the shot and the side effects, if any … and those stories were very helpful to people.”

New Haven’s Mayor Justin Elicker and Health Director Maritza Bond have been online guests at the meetings as well, he said. “All of these are means of helping people to stay connected, but it’s also a means of getting resources to live their life.”

Written by Ed Standard, Originally posted in the New Haven Register

‘Let Us Enter the Upper Room with the Lord’

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My dear friends in Christ, for the last year, we have faced an unprecedented time that has dramatically changed every aspect of life, in ways known and unknown. One can say that we have lived a time of spiritual twilight, when we experienced a growing sense of darkness, mixed with moments when the light of charity and kindness broke through to encourage us.

For who among us has not wrestled with fear and anxiety as we tried to deal with the uncertainties caused by a pandemic that upended our lives without warning? How many of our family members and friends suffered deeply because of the loss of a job, sudden illness, living in long periods of isolation or the fear of the unknown? Who has not been moved to tears when we looked at the sight of family members visiting relatives in hospitals, unable to be with them in their hour of sickness? How difficult it was to spend birthdays, anniversaries and holidays separated from parents and grandparents, unable to visit them so as to keep them safe! How many have endured the sadness and disappointment of making the hard decision to remain at home and not attend Sunday Mass, not simply to avoid risking their own health but to protect the well-being of their loved ones?

Yet, throughout these difficult days, we have also experienced moments of great joy and light. We have been moved by the sight of young children writing letters to seniors to quell the lonely days as the world entered quarantine. Neighbors have run errands and gone shopping for neighbors unable to leave their homes. Doctors and nurses and other frontline workers have sacrificed their own health and safety to care for those who have fallen ill, forgoing vacations and overtime pay to make sure those who are critically ill are not left alone. Families have gathered virtually, talking more during the pandemic than perhaps they would otherwise, simply to check in and check up on one another. Indeed, the virtual means of communications have brought so many closer together. Finally, how can we forget those faithful men and women, clergy and laity alike, who kept our churches clean when Masses resumed, who reimagined faith formation so that our young people could remain connected, who worked so tirelessly to keep our Catholic schools open? These moments of hope and light have reminded us that, even in the darkest times, we are a people of light.

For everyone who brought light in the midst of the darkness, I thank God each day for your witness and generosity.

Now as we begin to look to a time beyond the pandemic, many speak of a “new normal” that is a way of life that will be different because of what we have experienced together. If this is true, I ask you, should we not draw greater light out of this darkness by shaping the “new normal” so that our personal faith may be strengthened, the unity of our Church deepened and we are ready to go out in mission and witness to the Gospel in new and courageous ways? As Christians, we believe suffering and death leads to new life. Let us use the months ahead to work together to craft a future that will bring greater unity and renewal to ourselves, our families and our Church. As we anticipate the grip of the pandemic to slowly loosen in the coming months, let us now begin with a quiet period of personal and communal prayer, study and renewal. For having been strengthened in mind and spirit, we will be ready later this year to go out into the larger world and bear witness to Christ in new, bold and creative ways.

I come to you now, my dear friends, when many may be wondering about the future direction of our Church, to invite you to begin this spiritual journey with me, seeking the Lord’s grace to transform this time of suffering into a springtime of renewal for the life of the Church. It will be a journey that will move us beyond the fatigue that has settled in as weeks turned into months and as what we hoped would be temporary began to change the world around us. It will be a journey where we will rise out of the darkness with the Lord Jesus at our side, and in obedience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit bring new energy and commitment to the preaching of the Gospel, in word and witness. It is a journey that will last for a lifetime.

I. The Upper Room

“When the day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread arrived, the day for sacrificing the Passover Lamb, He (Jesus) sent out Peter and John, instructing them, ‘Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.’ They asked Him, ‘where do you want us to make the preparations?’ And He answered them, ‘When you go into the city, a man will meet you carrying a jar of water. Follow him into the house that he enters and say to the master of the house, ‘The teacher says to you, ‘Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room that is furnished. Make the preparations there” (Lk. 22: 7-12).

Since every journey demands preparation, our journey of renewal will begin by accepting the Lord’s invitation to enter in the quiet of our hearts and rediscover His presence and power in our personal lives, our families and in our communities of faith. The image that comes to my mind is that of the Upper Room where the Lord often gathered with His apostles and disciples, in times of challenge or decision, to strengthen them for what lay ahead.

Recall that it was in the Upper Room that the Lord celebrated the Last Supper with His apostles, to feed them in anticipation of the sufferings that they would endure by proclaiming His Passion and Death. It was in the Upper Room where the apostles, having seen the Risen Lord, could not overcome their fear until the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit gave them the courageous strength to become fearless missionaries in a harsh and cruel world. It was also in the Upper Room where the apostles learned to discern the Spirit’s plan for each of them and to go out in mission.

My friends, the Lord is inviting you and me into the Upper Room to receive the same gifts He gave to His apostles and disciples. In the months to come, in courageous and prayerful silence, the Lord will feed us, teach us and prepare us to go out in mission into our divided world to bring the light of Christ’s love to everyone we meet.

If we accept this invitation to spend time in the Upper Room with Him, He will offer us the same spiritual gifts already in our midst that will prepare us for the mission ahead. These are the same gifts that our recent Diocesan Synod highlighted, including the need for daily personal prayer, to seek forgiveness of our sins and to receive and adore the Eucharistic Lord. These gifts, which lie at the heart of our Catholic faith, are not new but will take on new power and purpose as together we celebrate their power to heal us, feed us and give us strength. This letter will explore how these gifts can bring us renewal and prepare us for the larger mission to come.

My friends, the Synod was guided by these words spoken by the Lord: “Remain in me as I remain in you” (Jn. 15:4). In this moment of preparation, may these words echo in our minds and hearts. For if we wish for true renewal and to be ready to go out into the larger world, nothing can be accomplished apart from the Lord and His grace.

II. Upper Room: A Place to be Fed

“Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn. 17:3).

In the Upper Room on the night before He died, the Lord fed His apostles both His Word and His Sacred Body and Blood. Recognizing that the Lord cannot force us to accept His gifts, these same gifts will feed you and me only if we are willing to receive them.

1. Personal Prayer

We can begin our preparations by making a conscious, daily decision to spend time in prayer with the Lord, with no short cuts and no excuses. We must not allow the fear of silence to dissuade us from prayer. Rather, if we have the courage to enter into the silence, the Lord will gently whisper the assurance of His love for us. He will speak to our hearts and remind us that He is always with us, in every moment of every day.

We can pray in any manner we wish, whether reciting the rosary, novena prayers, the Liturgy of the Hours or simply in unstructured conversation with the Lord. We can choose whatever time and place is most conducive to allow us to settle our minds and hearts to enter into the Lord’s presence. However, our commitment to pray—not as an addendum to a busy schedule but as a foundational part of our day—is crucial for the work that lies ahead of us. For if we wish to invite our children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends to share the joy of Catholic faith, how can we lead them to Christ if we do not spend time with the Lord each day deepening our own personal relationship with Him?

I ask that you consider including the Word of God in whatever prayer you choose. As we take our place at the Lord’s feet, as the apostles did in the Upper Room, we will be fed by listening to His Word. Unlike the apostles who had the privilege of hearing the Lord’s words with their own ears, you and I can hear the Lord’s words in and through the Sacred Scriptures. In our prayer and study, we can listen to the Lord’s teachings from His own lips, learn to follow in His footsteps and be inspired by the examples of the holy women and men of faith who followed Him.

Praying with the Scriptures can take many forms, including Lectio Divina, or engaging in Scripture sharing and study, whether online or in person. I call upon all pastoral and Diocesan leaders to make available whatever resources they can to unlock the beauty, meaning and power of the Word of God. For the admonition of Saint Jerome must never be forgotten: “Whoever does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” (Prologue of the Commentary on Isaiah: 1, CCL 73, 1).

2. Reconciliation with Christ

In the quiet of the Upper Room, we will also find the strength to seek the Lord’s word of forgiveness from the sins that may haunt us, sometimes hidden deep within our heart.

For we live in a time when sin is equated with “committing a mistake,” “making a poor choice” or “attending to my private business.” Sin is denied because to admit it may “impose guilt” that is perceived to be harmful. If the human person is considered the standard of truth and morality, what place does sin have in such a life? Yet, in the quiet of the Upper Room, the foolishness of these presumptions will be laid bare. For it was in the Upper Room where the Lord cast aside His outer garment, tied a towel around His waist and proceeded to wash the feet of His apostles, in anticipation of the Last Supper to follow. By this task, usually reserved for slaves to perform, the Lord reminded His apostles of their need to be cleansed, in order to receive His sacred Body and Blood and to serve others worthily.

If we enter the quiet of His presence, the Lord will gently hold up a mirror into our souls so that we can gaze upon our sins without excuses or pretense. At those moments, we will encounter a Savior who does not seek to condemn us but to forgive. He will whisper the same words to us that He spoke to the woman caught in adultery: “Has no one condemned you?…. Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on do not sin anymore” (Jn. 8:10-11). Our gentle and merciful Shepherd will offer to wash away our sins so that we can receive His Body and Blood with hearts and minds renewed.

Before we invite others to experience the liberating word of God’s forgiveness, should we not take this privileged time to relearn how to examine our conscience, admit our sinfulness and seek the forgiveness of our sins through the Sacrament of Penance?

I recognize that the pandemic has created obstacles for many who wish to approach the Sacrament of Penance. It is for this reason that I am asking that Centers of Mercy, once established in our Diocese during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (2015), be re-established in every deanery. These Centers of Mercy will be parishes that will offer the Sacrament of Penance in the evenings, with the help of the priests of the area, so that no one need wait more than two days in order to receive this healing sacrament. These Centers, along with the parishes already offering the Sacrament of Penance throughout the Diocese, will observe every protocol needed to maintain the safety of penitent and priest alike. These new Centers of Mercy will begin their work no later than March 1st and a comprehensive list will be published in every media platform of the Diocese.

On Monday, March 29th, we will hold our annual observance of Reconciliation Monday. As you may know, on this day, Confessions will be heard in many parishes throughout the Diocese, both in the afternoon and evenings, so that everyone who wishes to receive the sacrament can do so before the Easter Triduum. I ask you to consider participating in this unique opportunity to receive the gift of forgiveness that only Christ can give.

My friends, the Lord wishes to free each of us from the burden of our sins. Should we not then use this time to shed the baggage of our sins and accept His freedom with joy?

3. The Holy Eucharist

Finally, and most importantly, it was in the Upper Room that at the Last Supper the Lord Jesus fed His apostles His Sacred Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The Lord fed them His Body and Blood so that they could anticipate through grace the mystery of His Passion and Death, and to strengthen them for the sufferings that lay ahead.

My friends, each time we have come to Mass, we have taken a seat at the table in the Upper Room, like the apostles, to be fed the sacred Body and Blood of our Savior and Redeemer. Through grace, we participate in an unbloodied way in the one sacrifice of the Lord’s death on the Cross. At Mass, we enter in the mystery of our redemption and salvation in Christ. It is celestial food that gives us the strength to go into mission wherever that may lead us.

I recognize that among the many disruptions caused by the pandemic, none has created greater hardship, sadness and disappointment than the inability of many to come to Sunday Mass. It was with great sorrow that I suspended Sunday worship last year, to ensure that the lives of our people, especially the sick and elderly, were protected from an unknown and unseen menace. Ever since public worship has resumed, we have maintained our health protocols to allow those who are ready and able to attend Sunday Mass to come to church as safely as possible. I understand the burden that many may feel because of these measures and I deeply appreciate your cooperation. As I write this letter, more than 25,000 Catholics have returned to Sunday Mass, and we await the return of many more Catholics to Sunday Mass as conditions improve.

I also wish to thank those individuals who have remained connected to the celebration of the Mass by viewing it online due to their inability to return to church at the present time. Christian prudence demands that every person carefully examine the circumstances of their life and to make decisions that will keep them safe and protect the well-being of their loved ones. The Lord feeds you His grace through the Spiritual Communion you now receive, until the day comes when you can return to receive His sacred Body and Blood without fear. When that time comes, your parish community will welcome you home with open arms.

My friends, let us also use this quiet time of preparation to ask the Lord to reawaken in our hearts a passion, respect and reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. Our reverence is deepened as our understanding and appreciation of the “Mystery of Faith” that is the Eucharist grows. Sadly, many adult Catholics have not had the opportunity to explore the depth, breadth and richness of this central mystery of our faith. I call upon our clergy and pastoral leaders to offer sustained and comprehensive adult catechesis on the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the coming months so that our love and passion for the Eucharist can grow. Diocesan resources will also be published soon, including a detailed theological reflection on the mystery of the Eucharist, as fuel to awaken the fire of our Eucharistic faith. Let us use the months ahead to deepen our knowledge and appreciation of so great a divine gift.

We must also acknowledge the debilitating spiritual effects created by the celebration of Mass that lacks reverence or beauty. For it is the power of beauty that engages the heart, allowing the grace of the Eucharist to move its participants to remember that their destination is heaven and to embrace their mission to preach the Gospel in the world. A beautiful and reverent celebration of the Mass demands a proper disposition by the celebrant and lay faithful alike. We cannot allow the distractions of the world to draw our attention away from the mystery before us. Each of us must relearn the power of preparation before Mass, interior silence and thanksgiving at the conclusion of Mass so that the gift given can yield its proper fruit.

I have also asked that every deanery establish at least one Center of Adoration—a local parish that will offer Eucharistic Adoration throughout the day, so that everyone who wishes can be fed by the Eucharistic Lord in a personal and powerful way. These Centers will also afford those who remain uncomfortable with attending Mass on Sunday an opportunity to encounter the Eucharistic Lord in quiet throughout the day. It is my desire that every deanery will have at least one such Center of Adoration operating no later than the start of April.

III. Upper Room: A Place to Listen

“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own but he will speak what he hears and will declare to you the thigs that are coming” (Jn. 16:12-13).

In addition to being fed, the Lord wishes for us to enter into the Upper Room with Him to relearn how to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, often spoken in and through the lives of the people around us. For we cannot be effective in mission unless we can address the concerns that believers and non-believers hold in their hearts.
Some believers continue to have questions of faith for which they have never received adequate answers. Others have wounds that burden them or hurts from past failures in the Church that tempt them to walk away in indifference. Each of us must ask the Lord to teach us how to listen to those concerns so that in our personal encounters with the people we meet, we can be effective in leading our brothers and sisters to find the answers that they seek in Jesus.

IV. Upper Room: A Place to Recommit to Mission

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2: 1-4).

Finally, like the apostles, we must be prepared to reenter the larger world as courageous missionaries of the Gospel.
In our Baptism and Confirmation, each of us was given the mission to be a disciple of Christ who can speak an effective word of salvation to whomever we meet, whether they be our family members, co-workers, friends or even strangers. This word of salvation that comes from Christ invites every human person to become “a new creation” in Him (2 Cor. 5:17).

To speak an effective word of salvation does not always require spoken words but can be powerfully conveyed by the example of a joyful, faithful life. It often does not require that we leave our homes or places of work to be missionaries. In fact, it is in these familiar places that our mission begins. This means that at every moment of every day we are called to be missionaries, even during these days of the pandemic. In fact, these past months have given us unique opportunities to offer help, consolation and care in the name of Jesus. In those occasions, we lived the vision attributed to Saint Teresa of Avila who taught her sisters:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

Saint Paul describes this mission by using the word “ambassador.” He writes, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). Who are these ambassadors? Simply put, they are you, me and all who have encountered the person of Jesus Christ. Where are we to go? We serve as ambassadors of Christ in our homes, classrooms, workplaces, clubs, ball fields, and when we shop, travel, and spend time with friends. For the work of an ambassador is to build a living bridge to the people we meet, accompanying them in their struggles, answering their questions and allowing them to experience how much they are loved by Christ, through you and me. When I first came to the Diocese, in my installation homily, I spoke about my deep desire to build bridges to those who were seeking meaning and direction in life. It seems to me that the time has come when we are all called to be bridge-builders to the people around us, leading them to Christ, for whom we serve as His ambassadors.

At times we have all failed to be true ambassadors of Christ. Such failure has a familiar look. As Saint Ignatius of Antioch describes it: “Do not have Jesus Christ on your lips and the world in your hearts” (Letter to the Romans, Chpt. 4:7). We must resolve to learn from any past mistakes we have made and serve with new zeal in this work the Lord has given us.

Furthermore, the time is coming when we will be able to leave the safety of our homes and reenter a world forever changed by the pandemic—one that may not welcome the message we will bring. We must recognize that we live within a post-Christian world, in which many do not understand the Christian faith nor have had an encounter with the Lord and His mercy. It is a world where many may not readily welcome the Gospel or may even actively oppose it. It is a world that will nonetheless be surprised by the power of the Gospel and its ability to bring joy and hope where the world cannot give it.

Let us draw hope from our knowledge that the world did not welcome Jesus in whose name we were baptized. Indeed, we are in good company as we go out into the world.

As we begin preparations for a great evangelical outreach into the larger world that will begin in the fall of 2021, the pastors of our Diocese and I will need the assistance of co-workers who will not be afraid to go out into their communities to invite people to encounter the Lord and His mercy. We will need people to echo the prophets and saints who have gone before us, willing to see light through the darkness and willing to say to the Lord, “Here I am. Send me” (Is. 6:8).

Such co-workers, drawn from the laity and clergy alike, must be willing to use the months ahead to undergo intensive personal and spiritual formation to prepare themselves to be missionary ambassadors of Christ. When ready, they will be sent out into their community, under the care of their local pastor, to invite those who have left active participation in the life of the Church to return home. In time, this same invitation will be extended to people of good will and anyone searching for the real meaning of life. For such meaning is found only in the Lord Jesus.
Our pastors have been asked to discern who among their people they can recommend to enter this formational experience, which will be done both online and in person. Formation will include a period of discernment for those who might wonder if this particular opportunity is something the Lord is calling them to do.

If the challenge of serving as a missionary ambassador stirs your heart, I ask that you contact your local pastor and discuss this pastoral opportunity. Evenings of information will be held in the first week of March to provide prospective candidates further information. Furthermore, I call on everyone to pray for those who will respond to this important invitation.

Conclusion: Saint Joseph, “A Righteous Man” (Mt. 1:19)

As we reflect upon the challenges we face and the mission that lies ahead, we may be tempted to be discouraged. Join me to seek the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds, give joy to our hearts, strengthen our will and shake off all discouragement. Let us prepare ourselves to respond boldly and courageously to whatever awaits us. Let us enter into the Upper Room with Christ so that He can strengthen us for the task that lies ahead.
May these words attributed to Saint John Henry Newman stir our hearts, “Teach us, dear Lord, frequently and attentively to consider this truth: that if I gain the whole world and lose you, in the end I have lost everything; whereas if I lose the whole world and gain you, in the end I have lost nothing.” For if we place our hope in the Lord and not in the world, what do we have to fear?

As you know, Saint Joseph, the righteous one, is being honored this year throughout the Church. For he was a man well acquainted with unexpected change, having his life upended by visits from the Archangel Gabriel and flight into an unknown land. Yet, it was his courage, strength of faith and quiet perseverance that allowed him to overcome the challenges the Holy Family faced. He quietly and faithfully guided and protected the Lord Jesus and our Lady until his death.

On March 19th, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, the Husband of Mary, I will consecrate the people of the Diocese to the protection and intercession of Saint Joseph during a solemn celebration of Mass at Saint Augustine Cathedral at 7 pm. This celebration will be livestreamed as well. I have also asked all the pastors of our Diocese to offer the same Mass and consecration in their local parishes, also at 7 pm. A plenary indulgence will be available for all those who participate in either the Diocesan or parish celebrations. The spiritual requirements needed to receive this extraordinary grace will be published shortly. As we begin this journey of renewal, I can think of no better guide and protector to whom we can entrust our journey than Saint Joseph. May he help us quietly and faithfully to fulfill the work that lies before us.

My friends, I offer you these reflections on the day when we accept ashes on our foreheads as a sign of our mortality and an invitation to conversion. It begins the holy season of Lent, during which we journey with Christ into the desert so that we can be purified and made ready to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord at Easter. It is a season, for many, reminiscent of the twilight we have been enduring for some time. Still, we are gifted with the knowledge that Good Friday is followed by Easter Sunday. We know that Easter joy follows the Lenten twilight.
May we bring the ashes we receive today into the Upper Room where we will discover that the Lord can bring light into darkness, lead twilight to dawn and raise ashes to new life.

Most Reverend Frank J. Caggiano
Ash Wednesday
February 17, 2021

SHU to host COVID-19 memorial service

WHAT: Please join Sacred Heart University for a virtual memorial service to remember the Connecticut residents, and members of the SHU community, who lost their lives to COVID-19. A welcome message will be read at 9 a.m. followed by the names of the deceased. Musical interludes will take place throughout the service.

WHO: Sacred Heart students, staff, faculty, alumni and community members will read the names of the those who lost their lives.

WHERE: Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Sacred Heart University, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield or stream the event live on YouTube

WHEN: Monday, February 15, at 9 a.m.

SPONSOR: Sacred Heart University Office of Mission Integration, Ministry and Multicultural Affairs

PRESS: Media coverage is welcomed at the chapel and virtually. Please contact Deb Noack at 203-396-8483 or for further information.

About Sacred Heart University

As the second-largest independent Catholic university in New England, and one of the fastest-growing in the U.S., Sacred Heart University is a national leader in shaping higher education for the 21st century. SHU offers more than 80 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs on its Fairfield, Conn., campus. Sacred Heart also has satellites in Connecticut, Luxembourg and Ireland and offers online programs. More than 9,000 students attend the University’s nine colleges and schools: Arts & Sciences; Communication, Media & the Arts; Social Work; Computer Science & Engineering; Health Professions; the Isabelle Farrington College of Education; the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology; the Dr. Susan L. Davis, R.N., & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing; and St. Vincent’s College. Sacred Heart stands out from other Catholic institutions as it was established and led by laity. The contemporary Catholic university is rooted in the rich Catholic intellectual tradition and the liberal arts, and at the same time cultivates students to be forward thinkers who enact change—in their own lives, professions and in their communities. The Princeton Review includes SHU in its Best 386 Colleges–2021 Edition, “Best in the Northeast” and Best Business Schools–2021 Edition. Sacred Heart is home to the award-winning, NPR-affiliated radio station, WSHU, a Division I athletics program and an impressive performing arts program that includes choir, band, dance and theatre.

Sprinkling of ashes during the pandemic

BRIDGEPORT—In order to ensure the safety of clergy and the lay faithful, distribution of ashes this year will take the form of sprinkling dry ashes on the top of people’s heads or using a cotton swab rather than the thumb to make a cross.

In a memo to all clergy, Msgr. Thomas Powers, vicar general of the diocese, cited a directive from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments asking priests to take special anti-COVID-19 precautions this year when distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday, February 17.

The congregation’s note on the “distribution of ashes in time of pandemic” was published on the congregation’s website January 12 and directs priests to say “the prayer for blessing the ashes” first and then sprinkle “the ashes” silently.

If pastors choose to distribute ashes in this way, Msgr. Powers asked them to prepare parishioners by explaining to them how they will be receiving ashes well before Ash Wednesday so as to avoid confusion.

Msgr. Powers said sprinkling ashes on the top of people’s heads, rather than marking foreheads with ashes, is the customary practice at the Vatican and in Italy.

Given the spread of the coronavirus, the practice has the advantage of not requiring the priest to touch multiple people, he said.

This year priests can also use a cotton swab to make a cross on the forehead, using a new cotton ball for each person.

In either practice, when coming forward for the ashes, each recipient will be asked to stop six feet before the priest, who then intones “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” At that point, the recipient comes forward, receives the ashes and returns to his or her pew.

In order to accommodate as many as possible in a safe and reverent manner, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has given pastors permission to offer an open period during which the lay faithful can come to the church to receive ashes outside of Mass or the Liturgy of the Word. However, there will be no “drive-by” distribution of ashes.

All those who attend Mass or a Liturgy of the Word on Ash Wednesday must register beforehand in the same way they do for Sunday Masses.

‘We’ll make this school full again’

DANBURY—In September, St. Joseph School was inundated with parents who wanted to enroll their children—so many that the Catholic school had to add classes.

Unlike Danbury Public Schools, St. Joseph’s was open in-person, a major draw for families, who did not want their children on distance learning.

“Our phones were ringing off the hook for those young ones,” said Louis Howe, principal at St. Joseph’s, a K-8 school that has had about 30 new students join since September. “Those young ones need to be in school. It’s tough for them to be on a computer.”

Interest has heightened locally and nationally in Catholic schools, which in recent years have struggled and even combined or closed due to enrollment declines and budgetary challenges.

“Our hope is that as families have experienced Catholic school education that they will see the value of it and that they will continue to send their students,” said Steven Cheeseman, superintendent of schools in the Dioceses of Bridgeport.

Their small size has allowed most Catholic schools in Fairfield County to do what many public schools have not during the coronavirus pandemic—open five days a week for all students who want to be there.

Many public schools have been on the hybrid model for at least part of the academic year and have had to temporarily close due to staff shortages or COVID cases. Danbury was on full distance learning until mid-January.

Only two Catholic high schools in the Bridgeport dioceses are on a hybrid model, while all other schools are open fully in-person, Cheeseman said.

Preschool decline

Similarly, public schools faced a drop in kindergarten enrollment, although Cheeseman said Catholic schools have seen a rise in kindergartners.

Catholic schools have historically seen pre-kindergarten as their “bread and butter,” Howe said.

“We saw the reverse,” he said. “Our K-8 is carrying our pre-K.”

St. Joseph’s is down about 20 pre-kindergartners from 45 students last school year.

Parents with young children have been concerned that preschoolers wouldn’t be good at wearing masks and did not want to worry about remote learning if necessary, Howe said.

“Some of these parents perhaps didn’t realize we’d be going this long without having to shut the school down,” he said.

He expects more pre-kindergartners could enroll. Already, one preschooler is supposed to start next week, he said.

“Parents are starting to realize we’ve got protocols in place,” Howe said. “We’re staying open and our preschool is up and running.”

Cheeseman said he has seen the same across the dioceses.

Filling the building

Without the preschool decline, Howe expects St. Joseph’s would have more students than last academic year, when 221were enrolled.

St. Joseph’s had 187 students enrolled before Labor Day, but reached more than 200 students by the end of the first week of school, Howe said. As of February, there are 215 students. There is a waitlist for this year and next year.

The school added another kindergarten and second grade class. This is the first time in a while that the school has had two classes for one grade, he said.

“It’s been a blessing,” Howe said.

“These families are seeing there is a difference of remote learning and in-school learning,” Howe said.

Over 20 families, largely in K-8, are on the waitlist for next year. Class sizes are 20 to 21 students on average, but cannot be increased at the moment due to social distancing guidelines, Howe said.

“I’m not willing to crunch desks together just to get more [students] in,” he said. “I’m not going to sacrifice safety for money.”

But he hopes restrictions could be eased next year, allowing more students to enroll. The building could hold between 400 to 600 students, he said.

“We’ll make this school full again,” Howe said. “That’s my mission, and I think we’re well on the way to achieving that.”

But the pandemic did hurt schools like St. Joseph Catholic Academy in Brookfield. After years of enrollment decline and financial challenges, that school closed permanently
at the end of last academic year.

The pandemic hurt schools’ ability to raise money, which was a contributing factor in closing the academy, Cheeseman said.

The National Catholic Education Association estimates COVID played a factor in closing 107 Catholic schools across the country, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Staying open

Catholic schools have a big advantage—their small size.

There are more than 7,000 students spread out between the Bridgeport diocese’s 25 elementary and high schools.Comparatively, Bridgeport has about 20,000 students, Danbury has around 12,000, Norwalk has about 11,500, Stamford has around 16,000 and Greenwich has roughly 9,000.

“We’re much smaller and more nimble,” Cheeseman said.

Schools range in size, with about 150 students at the smallest elementary school and around 375 elementary children at the largest, he said. The high schools range from 400 to 800 students.

“It’s easier to isolate the students in the classroom and limit movement and easier to social distance because we have a smaller school, unlike our public school friends that have thousands of students to deal with,” Howe said.

All but about eight St. Joseph’s students opted to be in-person, he said.

Parent Megan Cerullo said her children were “elated” to return to St. Joseph’s.

Students mainly stay in the classroom, where they eat lunch, and are not permitted to leave their hallways, Howe said. Each hallway has its own bathroom and teachers’ lounge.

“Everything is pretty much contained in the classroom,” Howe said.

This means quarantines are generally limited to one class, but even those have been rare, he said. Before Christmas, St. Joseph’s only quarantined one class. There have been a few COVID cases since then, he said.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” Howe said.

The average distance between desks is just over five feet at St. Josephs, Howe said. Across the diocese, desks are between four and a half to six feet apart, Cheeseman said.

Just like the public schools, it has been rare for the virus to spread within the Catholic school buildings. The schools have found only one possible instance, Cheeseman said.

Howe said families have been helping in following precautions, including students wearing their masks like it’s “second nature.”

“I believe really wholeheartedly that the reason we’re still open is: not only do we have a solid plan, but we also have the cooperation of our community,” Howe said.

For parents that do not want to send their children to school, the dioceses has created an online academy.

‘High hopes’ for future

“We’re seeing an increased enrollment for a reason,” she said. “I do believe a faith-based education is something that parents want for their children.”

She expects this will be a boost for Catholic schools beyond the pandemic.

“The challenge is getting them [families] in the doors,” Cerullo said. “Once they’re in the doors, we can show them everything we have to offer and how we stand apart from other schools.”

Ensuring the families feel like part of the community will be key to getting them to stay, Howe said.

“Once that happens, they’re not going to want to leave,” he said.

Cheeseman said he held a Zoom call with 22 families who moved this year from the public to Catholic school.

“Every one of them said, ‘I wish we would have done this sooner,’” Cheeseman said. “If that’s an indication, then I have high hopes for what the future can bring.”

By Julia Perkins   I   Danbury News Times