‘Let Us Enter the Upper Room with the Lord’

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

Standing with Christ during the pandemic

BRIDGEPORT– When Bishop Caggiano first challenged the people of the diocese to “Stand with Christ” by serving others, he could not have foreseen the pandemic that would lead to unprecedented hardship and suffering for many in Fairfield County.

Yet, almost a year into the pandemic, the Foundations the diocese created to bring additional resources to education, charitable works, and faith formation have played a major role in funding the response to the crisis.

The bishop said that serving others during the pandemic is an historic and heroic form of Christian witness. He has also praised those who have given generously in support of diocesan ministries, programs and services that have been able to reach out to the most vulnerable.

“For many months, we reflected together on those with whom we stand with Christ — our neighbors, the poor, our students, our elderly and our youth,” he said recently. “And now in the midst of this terrible global crisis that has hit our diocese particularly hard, we can truly understand the importance of our commitment to Christ.”

He points to the initiatives that have made a difference during a year of turmoil, many of them made possible through the We Stand With Christ campaign that supports three foundations in education, faith and charity:

  • Catholic schools have continued to teach students through faith-filled education online.
  • Parishes struggling to pay their bills have received financial assistance.
  • Chaplains and religious continue to minister to the sick and dying.
  • Catholic Charities’ soup kitchens and food pantries are open and serving more people than ever at a time when others have been forced to close.

In response to parish needs, the St. Francis Xavier Mission Church Fund was established to support parishes with strained finances. This fund supported capital repairs and expanded pastoral resources that were beyond the financial capacity of the parishes.

Foundations in Faith launched the COVID-19 Emergency Fund to make available limited emergency assistance to churches with financial problems because of the pandemic.

In the past year, Catholic Charities of Fairfield County confronted a rising demand for services.

“The working poor, the homeless, and the elderly are the ones being hurt the most by this COVID-19 crisis, and our mission has always been to take care of our most vulnerable neighbors in Fairfield County,” said Michael Donoghue, executive director.

The demand for food resources increased 50 percent and virtually doubled because of the pandemic. The three soup kitchens that serve the county — New Covenant Center in Stamford, Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport and Morning Glory Breakfast Program in Danbury — saw a significant increase in demand as more people turned to them at a time when other food pantries and cafes closed.

“This was a once-in-a-century pandemic, and if there is any time the services of Catholic Charities are needed, it is now,” Donoghue said.

An enduring legacy of service

Father William Platt, pastor of The Parish of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Agnes in Greenwich and Director of Hospital Chaplains for the Diocese, says, “Our chaplains continued to serve with courage through this pandemic. They have had to navigate a wide range of hospital and nursing home protocols in regard to visitation and the last rites. They have done so with skill and compassion. The Catholic Church is the only faith group that provides chaplains to public institutions free of charge.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, they were restricted from visiting patients in their rooms and had to rely on phone calls and Zoom sessions to pray with patients who were isolated from their families. The Catholic nurses would often put them in touch with patients who needed prayer and encouragement.

Father Matthew Mauriello, chaplain of the Knights of Columbus Orinoco Assembly #126, has been serving the sick and dying at St. Camillus Center in Stamford for five years.

When asked about his ministry as chaplain on the pastoral care team at the 124-bed nursing facility, he says, “I am just doing my job. This is my job, and I’m not looking for recognition. I just hope the Lord helps us out, so we can go back to some normalcy soon.”

During the pandemic, which hampered pastoral ministries, Father embraced the message of St. Paul who said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

“We have to be there, rejoicing with those who rejoice,” he said, “and weeping with those who weep. With this coronavirus situation, families of the residents were not even allowed to hold their hand as they were dying.”

In his work, he is assisted by Sister Elizabeth Rani Antony Samy and Sister Annarani Annapandi, two Franciscans of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who live at Star of the Sea in Stamford.

“We are so fortunate to have him during this pandemic,” says Marjorie Simpson, senior executive director at St. Camillus.

On a daily basis, Father Paul Sankar and Father Marcel Saint Jean, both chaplains at Norwalk Hospital, bring Christ to the infirm and dying.

“We hospital chaplains visit these patients, and they are very happy to see us,” Fr. Paul says. Being a hospital chaplain is a special calling, which requires a priest to be available whenever a call comes in. He says it is a wonderful ministry to care for the sick and to practice the Corporal Works of Mercy.

“There isn’t a greater way to serve the Lord than when I am helping a vulnerable person,” said Father Marcel. “This is evident when I am present in a room with a patient. What makes it so authentic is knowing I am seeing the Lord in that patient. As a chaplain, there isn’t a time when I am with a patient and not hearing the voice of Jesus resounding in my heart and ears saying, ‘I was sick and you came to visit me.’”

They are only a few of the priests and religious who have ministered to the sick during the coronavirus crisis.

An enduring lesson for Catholics

When Msgr. Fairbanks talks to seminarians about the Catholic tradition of service, the example of their patron saint comes to mind.

“I always talk about the Plague of St. Charles,” he says. “I point out that when there is a difficulty or a crisis, there is the flight-or-fight response, and the temptation is to run and keep yourself safe.” That, however, is not what St. Charles did, and that is not what Catholics are called to do.

He tells the seminarians that people remember when you show concern and compassion. People remember that you went to a funeral. People remember that you came when they were sick. People remember that you offered help when they were in need. People remember that you stepped up when you were needed the most.

“The Plague of St. Charles drives home the message that St. Charles was trying to convey,” he says. “That message is the Church cares about people, God cares about people and as people of God, we care about each other.”

The instinct to run away out of concern for yourself is not what being a Christian or priest is about. He tells the young men, “You have to have the courage to respond to people in need.”

He also reminds them of their heroic legacy. He reminds them of the seminarians, religious and priests who went out into a terrified city during the deadly Spanish flu pandemic and did what Christ would expect them to do, despite the danger.

“This was an opportunity that people remember — when priests went out and cared for the sick, when priests went out and anointed the sick, when seminarians went out to do a corporal work of mercy and bury the dead,” he said. “They were opportunities….And now we have an opportunity.”

The above report is the final in a three-part series by Joe Pisani on “The Church during plagues and pandemics.” Part 1 offered a look at how the Church of today’s pandemic and the Church that coped with the plague are united in their faith and attempts to safeguard life. Part II explored the Church’s response to the 1918 flu epidemic.)

St. Mark School Increases Focus on Student Well-Being Amid COVID-19

STRATFORD—St. Mark School in Stratford is pleased to announce that amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it has increased its emphasis on student well-being. This year, the school initiated a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Program into the Preschool – Grade 8 curriculum and hired a part-time School Counselor.

“Recognizing the new challenges that the pandemic has brought, educators must be proactive in our response to our students’ emotional and mental health needs,” shares St. Mark Principal Melissa Warner.

According to the National Education Association, SEL should be priority during the COVID-19 crisis and is key to successful student performance, especially in preschool and elementary school.

This year St. Mark School implemented Second Step, an evidence-based, interactive SEL curriculum, supported by Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), through which students learn and practice vital social skills, such as cooperation, problem-solving, empathy, emotion management, and impulse control.

St. Mark School Counselor Jennifer Flynn adds, “I am proud to work at a school that understands and promotes social emotional learning and fosters a community built on compassion and kindness to all. I feel Second Step is an important program as it is developing student’s socio-emotional skills and increasing social competences.”

Preschool Director Julie Larracuente remarks, “I think the program is a great addition to our Little Lions classroom. The preschool students get so excited when our SEL puppets, Jerome and Maria, come to visit us. The puppets talk about their emotions and show us different ways to express our feelings to others. Our sessions always end with a fun, active game that requires the children to listen to and follow directions.”

During a recent lesson on Emotion Management, second grade students learned that when they have strong feelings, it is hard to think clearly. However, if they focus their attention to clues which their body gives them about how they are feeling, they can help their brain get back in control. Students enjoy their “turn and talk” discussions with classmates in which they share how lessons can apply to their situation and life experiences.

“SEL gives students the tools to excel in and out of the classroom,” shares Second Grade Teacher Stacey Zenowich. “The program’s age-appropriate games, activities, and media engage students and set children on a path to lifelong success.”

Fifth Grade Teacher Alyssa DiMaio reports, “My students always look forward to Second Step lessons in the classroom. By learning about important topics such as empathy and respect, our classroom culture has greatly improved.”

St. Mark School is a New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accredited school and a Nationally Recognized Blue Ribbon School of Academic Excellence. St. Mark School opened its campus for full-time, in-person learning in September and continues to offer robust educational programs for students in Pre-K through Grade Eight, including those who choose to be enrolled in remote learning. For more information, call 203.375.4291, email or visit

Pope Francis receives COVID-19 vaccine

The vaccination campaign against Covid-19 in the Vatican which began on Wednesday continues with both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI receiving their first doses of the vaccine.

“I can confirm that as part of the vaccination program of the Vatican City State, as of today, the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine has been administered to Pope Francis and to the Pope Emeritus,” said Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office in response to journalists’ questions.

Pope Francis had announced during an interview with Italian television station Tg5 on Sunday that he planned to receive the vaccine this week.

The Pope referred to the vaccination as “an ethical action, because you are gambling with your health, you are gambling with your life, but you are also gambling with the lives of others.”

Private Secretary to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, Bishop Georg Gaenswein, had also confirmed that the Pope emeritus would be vaccinated.

Story originally found on Vatican News.

World Sick Day, pope calls for health care for all

VATICAN CITY—Praising those who help the sick and praying for those who are sick, Pope Francis called on Christians to practice what they preach, including by guaranteeing equal access to health care for all people.

“The current pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in our health care systems and exposed inefficiencies in the care of the sick,” the pope wrote in his message for the 2021 World Day of the Sick, which the Catholic Church marks February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it obvious to everyone that “elderly, weak and vulnerable people are not always granted access to care,” at least not in an equitable way, he said. “This is the result of political decisions, resource management and a greater or lesser commitment on the part of those holding positions of responsibility.”

“Investing resources in the care and assistance of the sick is a priority linked to the fundamental principle that health is a primary common good,” Pope Francis wrote in his message, which was released by the Vatican January 12.

The papal message, using Jesus’ denunciation of hypocrisy in Matthew 23:1-12, insisted that real faith leads to real care for all who suffer from illness, poverty or injustice.

“When our faith is reduced to empty words, unconcerned with the lives and needs of others, the creed we profess proves inconsistent with the life we lead,” the pope wrote. “The danger is real.”

When another person is suffering, he said, Jesus “asks us to stop and listen, to establish a direct and personal relationship with others, to feel empathy and compassion, and to let their suffering become our own as we seek to serve them.”

Being sick makes one realize his or her “own vulnerability and innate need of others,” the pope said. “It makes us feel all the more clearly that we are creatures dependent on God.”

“When we are ill,” he continued, “fear and even bewilderment can grip our minds and hearts; we find ourselves powerless, since our health does not depend on our abilities.”

For many people, the pope said, “sickness raises the question of life’s meaning,” something Christians must “bring before God in faith. In seeking a new and deeper direction in our lives, we may not find an immediate answer. Nor are our relatives and friends always able to help us in this demanding quest.”

Like Job in the Bible, people must stick with their prayers, crying out to God for help, he said.

In the end, God “confirms that Job’s suffering is not a punishment or a state of separation from God, much less as sign of God’s indifference,” he said. Job, “wounded and healed,” confesses his faith in the Lord.

Pope Francis praised the “silent multitude of men and women,” who, as the pandemic continues, do not look away, but help their patients or their neighbors.

“Such closeness is a precious balm that provides support and consolation to the sick in their suffering,” he said. “As Christians, we experience that closeness as a sign of the love of Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan, who draws near with compassion to every man and woman wounded by sin.”

Jesus’ commandment to love one another also applies to a Christian’s relationship with a person who is sick, the pope said. “A society is all the more human to the degree that it cares effectively for its most frail and suffering members, in a spirit of fraternal love.”

“Let us strive to achieve this goal, so that no one will feel alone, excluded or abandoned,” he said, praying that “Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Infirm,” would watch over the sick, health care workers and all those who help others.

By Cindy Wooden   I   Catholic News Service


Vatican asks priests to ‘sprinkle’ ashes on heads

VATICAN CITY—The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments asked priests to take special anti-COVID-19 precautions this year when distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday, February 17, including sprinkling ashes on the top of people’s heads rather than using them to make a cross on people’s foreheads.

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” and then sprinkle “the ashes with holy water, without saying anything.”

“Then he addresses all those present and only once says the formula as it appears in the Roman Missal, applying it to all in general: ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’ or ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’”

“The priest then cleanses his hands, puts on a face mask and distributes the ashes to those who come to him or, if appropriate, he goes to those who are standing in their places,” it said. “The priest takes the ashes and sprinkles them on the head of each one without saying anything.”

The usual practice would be to repeat the formula—“Repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”—to each person as the ashes are sprinkled on the top of their head or rubbed onto their forehead.

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.

The Latin, Italian, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese versions of the note also specify that the mask should cover the priests’ “nose and mouth.”

By Catholic News Service


Bishop resumes Public Ministry after quarantine

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has resumed public ministry after quarantining for more than ten days following an initial positive test for coronavirus.

“My friends, thank you for your prayers, for your concern, and your support these past few days.  I wish to share with you good news: my quarantine period is over, and with two negative COVID-19 tests, I am back in full swing,” the bishop said after receiving his second negative test for the virus.

“Thank you again for your prayers, and know of mine for you, for your families, and for an end to this pandemic.”

Throughout his quarantine, he did not experience any symptoms and continued to work. However, he followed CDC guidelines to safeguard the lives of others until testing proved it was safe for him to return.

The bishop said he is very grateful for the prayers and well wishes he received from many people across the diocese.  He also asks for prayers for all those who have lost a loved one and those who are currently afflicted with the virus.

Just after Christmas the Diocese announced that the bishop had tested positive for Covid-19 during his regular weekly test of December 28. Consistent with CDC guidelines, he immediately went into quarantine and pursued follow-up testing.

News of the positive test was posted on the diocesan website and quickly spread throughout the region. During his time in quarantine, the bishop received many messages of prayerful support from the faithful

The results of his follow-up tests (PCR and antibody) taken on Wednesday, December 30 were negative and showed no antibodies to the virus. The Bishop was then advised to retake the PCR test the following week until he received a second negative result.

Bishop Caggiano was tested at the COVID-19 testing site located at Queen of Saints Hall in the Catholic Center, at 238 Jewett Avenue in Bridgeport.  The Diocese partnered with Progressive Diagnostics, LLC of Trumbull, a clinical medical laboratory, in response to the urgent need for more testing sites in Fairfield County. Working with Progressive Diagnostics, the Diocese has opened additional test sites at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Wilton and at Immaculate High School Retreat Center in Danbury.

The test sites are open to the general public. For information on Progressive Diagnostics test sites and appointments throughout Fairfield County, contact:

Diocesan COVID-19 Policy: The Diocese has consistently followed and often exceeded all state and local recommendations and has also added a registration feature to Mass attendance, so that congregations can be notified if any who attended a service later becomes aware of a positive test. As a result, to date, there is no evidence of communal spread as a result of anyone attending Mass in the Diocese. 

For more information, updates, and a complete listing of Diocesan public health and safety measures in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, visit

We need to persevere until the tide turns

As I begin my seventh day of quarantine, I am grateful to the Lord that I have not developed any symptoms associated with the coronavirus. Unfortunately, a number of dear friends have recently contacted me by text or email and told me that they have received both a positive test result and also begun to experience some severe side effects from the virus. My heart goes out to them and their families. Let us continue to keep everyone who has been afflicted by this terrible disease in our prayers.

Given the fact that many who have recently contracted the Coronavirus fell ill through small gatherings that they attended at Christmastime, I urge everyone to remain vigilant in doing all that we can to protect ourselves and our families against this terrible disease. I recognize that we are all weary of what has become our ”new” way of life: wearing masks, socially distancing and frequently washing our hands. However, in those settings when we do not follow these protocols, precisely in small gatherings with family and friends, is when many have fallen ill. We need to persevere until the tide turns and this terrible disease is vanquished from our midst.

Please be assured of my daily prayers for all of you, your family and friends.

The previous reflection originally appeared on Bishop Frank Caggiano’s Facebook page. Follow the Bishop for daily reflections and weekly videos.

An Update from Bishop Frank

My dear friends, I am so deeply grateful for all the emails and texts you have sent me offering prayers as I begin my quarantine. I deeply appreciate your kindness and support. Thankfully, I remain asymptomatic which is very encouraging.

For those who join me for the electronic celebration of Mass, I am sorry that I will be unable to offer Mass until my quarantine is over. However, be assured of a remembrance in my own prayers as I celebrate Eucharist in private for the next ten days.

Finally, let us continue to pray for everyone who has been affected by the scourge of this pandemic in any way, especially those who are sick and our health care workers who care for them. May the Lord grant the sick a full and complete recovery and continued protection and well-being for all our health care workers.

Best wishes for a Blessed, Joyful, and Healthy New Year to you and your families.

The previous reflection originally appeared on Bishop Frank Caggiano’s Facebook page. Follow the Bishop for daily reflections and weekly videos.

Update on Bishop Caggiano

(Read the original announcement published December 30, 2020.)

Earlier this week the Diocese announced that Bishop Frank J. Caggiano had tested positive for Covid-19 after his regular weekly test of December 28. Consistent with CDC guidelines, he immediately went into quarantine and pursued follow-up testing.

The Bishop learned on Friday, however, that the results of his follow-up Covid test (taken on Wednesday, December 30) were negative. This follow-up test was a PCR test and not a rapid test. The antibody test he also took on Wednesday showed no antibodies to the virus.

The Bishop will retake the PCR test on Monday and hopes to get a second negative result. That result should be available on Wednesday. If that test is negative, the Bishop plans to return to public ministry next weekend. While he awaits the results, he will follow CDC guidelines by continuing his 10-day quarantine after the initial positive test.

The Bishop is committed to protecting others and setting an example about the importance of testing and quarantining. He feels well, has no symptoms and is very grateful for the prayers and well wishes he has received from many people. He also asks for prayers for all those who have lost a loved one and those who are currently afflicted with the virus.

Diocese looks to St. Charles Borromeo example during pandemic

“I’m thinking at this time of the saints who live next door. They are heroes: doctors, volunteers, religious sisters, priests, shop workers—all performing their duty so that society can continue functioning during the pandemic. How many doctors and nurses have died! How many religious sisters have died! All serving…” – Pope Francis in an interview with “Commonweal”

As the pandemic spread across the country, civil authorities prohibited public events and religious ceremonies. The bishop told the faithful not to gather in crowds, to avoid close contact and to hold Mass outside. He urged them to pray more fervently for an end to the scourge that had already taken thousands of lives.

The politicians who hadn’t already fled did little to deal with the crisis, and in desperation, they urged the bishop to take control. He did. Priests and volunteers set up emergency hospitals to care for the sick and dying, the wealthy were encouraged to provide for the poor and the jobless, regulations for worship were issued, and safety guidelines were established. Two years later, on Christmas 1577, what is known as “the Plague of St. Charles” began to abate.

Almost 450 years after the plague in Milan took tens of thousands of lives, the example of St. Charles Borromeo offers an illustration of how the Church has responded to pandemics throughout history, from as early as 165 CE and into the modern era with the Spanish influenza of 1918 and the present coronavirus crisis.

“St. Charles Borromeo is exemplary for how to lead during a pandemic,” says Deacon Patrick Toole of Westport, Episcopal Delegate for Administration of the Diocese of Bridgeport, who developed many of the protocols the diocese has followed for the past 10 months. “He was really conscious of the importance of social distancing and when he had Eucharistic processions, people walked nine feet apart. He also placed altars around the city for outdoor Masses, and in one of his famous homilies, he urges religious orders and priests to care for the sick. He had a tremendous response that can teach us a lot today.”

In drafting the diocesan response to COVID-19, Deacon Toole, a retired IBM executive, worked with Bishop Frank J. Caggiano and Msgr. Thomas Powers, Vicar General, and the administrative cabinet. After extensive research, he developed protocols for liturgy and public gatherings in an attempt to keep the faithful safe while allowing them the opportunity to worship.

“From my perspective, keeping our churches open is essential for the spiritual and physical well being of our people,” Deacon Toole says. “From the beginning, we had to study the virus to see how it was transmitted, and we did our best to follow CDC protocols and guidelines to keep our churches open and our people safe.”

As part of this process, he consulted medical experts, healthcare officials, immunologists and other dioceses. He examined the prevailing — sometimes changing — theories in scientific journals to come up with guidelines for social distancing and distribution of Communion.

He also consulted the CEO of a chemical company about sanitation and ventilation in his effort to formulate directives. When parishes were unable to get supplies, the diocese set up a distribution site at the Catholic Center that provided masks, shields and sanitizer. Schick company of Milford donated face shields, and engineering students at Fairfield University used 3-D printers to make them for parishes and first-responders.

“We realized that we needed to keep our churches safe and protect our clergy,” Deacon Toole said. “I think we’re doing everything possible to make Mass available for those who can come, and I firmly believe we are providing the safest environment under these circumstances.”

Throughout the pandemic, there has been no recorded incident when someone went to Sunday Mass and became infected, he says. Because people are required to register for Mass, this allows the diocese to notify attendees if anyone tested positive for COVID who was there.

“The Church is responding with great care and mercy,” he said. “As a community of faith, we are an essential service that must remain open.” To accommodate those who prefer not to attend in person, the diocese and parishes put technology in place so Masses could be live-streamed, including a weekly Sunday Mass by Bishop Caggiano.

“Our priests have shown amazing creativity to continue to foster the faith,” Deacon Toole said, “I give them a lot of credit for their creativity. Many offered outdoor Masses, and at my parish, St. Catherine of Siena, they are still doing outdoor drive-by confessions.”

Recognizing the importance of regular COVID testing, the diocese entered a partnership with Progressive Diagnostics LLC of Trumbull that allowed the Queen of Saints Hall of the Catholic Center at 238 Jewett Avenue to be used as a testing location for COVID-19 and antibody tests.

“We’re very proud of this initiative, which is offering an essential service to help safeguard lives in our community,” Deacon Toole said.

An estimated 1000 people a week are being tested, and future testing sites will open at diocesan locations in Danbury, Stamford, Norwalk and Wilton. As part of the agreement with Progressive, clergy are offered free weekly testing to ensure they do not have COVID when they celebrate weekend liturgies.

Deacon Toole sees this service as emblematic of what the Church has done many times in the past. “Historically the church was the hospital, and throughout history, we turned our churches over to bring in the sick,” he said.

The building where the Catholic Center is located was originally Englewood Hospital, a contagious disease facility, which opened in 1917 in response to the Spanish influenza pandemic that is believed to have claimed more than 50 million lives worldwide. In later decades, the hospital also treated patients for scarlet fever, mumps, measles and polio.

(The above report is Part 1 of a three-part series by Joe Pisani on “The Church during plagues and pandemics.” Part II will cover Christian heroism during pandemic).

Pictured: This reprint of “Charles Borromeo Giving Communion to the Plague Victims” is found at the Peoria parish that bears his name. The original was painted by Italian late-Mannerist/ early Baroque artist Antonio d’Enrico, called Tanzio da Varallo, (c. 1575/1580 – c. 1632/1633) circa 1616. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Vatican calls for equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution

The Vatican’s coronavirus commission and the Pontifical Academy for Life issued a joint statement calling for a coordinated international effort to ensure the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.

The document highlights the “critical role of vaccines to defeat the pandemic, not just for individual personal health but to protect the health of all,” the Vatican said in a statement accompanying the document Dec. 29.

Pictured: An elderly woman receives an injection with a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Vallecas nursing home in Madrid Dec. 27, 2020. (CNS photo/Comunidad de Madrid handout via Reuters)

“The Vatican commission and the Pontifical Academy of Life remind world leaders that vaccines must be provided to all fairly and equitably, prioritizing those most in need,” the Vatican said.

The pandemic has exacerbated “a triple threat of simultaneous and interconnected health, economic and socio-ecological crises that are disproportionately impacting the poor and the vulnerable,” the document said. “As we move toward a just recovery, we must ensure that immediate cures for the crises become stepping-stones to a more just society, with an inclusive and interdependent set of systems.”

Pope Francis established the COVID-19 commission in April with the goal of expressing “the church’s concern and love for the entire human family in the face of the of COVID-19 pandemic.”

Led by Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the commission is tasked with collaborating with other Vatican offices to coordinate its work, including “an analysis and a reflection on the socioeconomic and culture challenges of the future and proposed guidelines to address them.”

Cardinal Turkson said that while the Vatican is grateful for the scientific community’s speedy development of the vaccine, it is “now up to us to ensure that it is available to all, especially the most vulnerable.”

“It is a matter of justice,” he said. “This is the time to show we are one human family.”

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said his office is working with the commission to address the ethical issues regarding the vaccines’ development and distribution.

The joint document reiterated the points made Dec. 21 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the moral implications of receiving COVID-19 vaccines that were developed or tested using cell lines originating from aborted fetuses.

It also cited the congregation’s 2008 instruction, “Dignitas Personae,” which states that “grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such biological material.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life, the document said, also has addressed the issue of developing vaccines using tissue from aborted fetuses; while it called for a “commitment to ensuring that every vaccine has no connection in its preparation to any material originating from an abortion,” it also said that “the moral responsibility to vaccinate is reiterated in order to avoid serious health risks for children and the general population.”

The new document issued a set of objectives, particularly around making the vaccines “available and accessible to all.”

Part of that process, the document said, would be to consider how to reward those who developed the vaccine and repay “the research costs and risks companies have taken on,” while also recognizing the vaccine “as a good to which everyone should have access, without discrimination.”

The document quoted Pope Francis, who said in his Christmas message that humanity could not allow “the virus of radical individualism to get the better of us and make us indifferent to the suffering of other brothers and sisters,” nor could it allow “the law of the marketplace and patents take precedence over the law of love and the health of humanity.”

The dicastery and the academy said an exclusive focus on profit and commerce “is not ethically acceptable in the field of medicine and health care.”

“Investments in the medical field should find their deepest meaning in human solidarity. For this to happen, we ought to identify appropriate systems that favor transparency and cooperation, rather than antagonism and competition,” the document said. “It is therefore vital to overcome the logic of ‘vaccine nationalism,’ understood as an attempt by various states to own the vaccine in more rapid timeframes as a form of prestige and advantage, procuring the necessary quantity for its inhabitants.”

The Vatican document called for the negotiation of international agreements to manage the vaccine patents “so as to facilitate universal access to the vaccine and avoid potential commercial disruptions, particularly to keep the price steady in the future.”

Such an agreement, the document said, would enable governments and pharmaceutical companies to collaborate in the industrial production of the vaccine simultaneously in different parts of the world, ensuring faster and more cost-effective access everywhere.

The Vatican COVID-19 commission and the Pontifical Academy for Life also called for widespread campaigns to educate people on the “moral responsibility” to get vaccinated.

Due to the “close interdependence” between personal and public health, the commission and the pontifical academy warned that refusing to take the vaccine “may also constitute a risk to others.”

Given the absence of an alternative vaccine that is not either developed from or tested on “the results of a voluntary abortion,” the document emphasized that the vaccines currently available are “morally acceptable” and that moral objections one may use to refuse vaccination “are nonbinding.”

“For this reason, such refusal could seriously increase the risks for public health,” especially when some people, like those who are immunosuppressed, can “only rely on other people’s vaccination coverage (and herd immunity) to avoid the risk of infection,” the document said. As a result, a rise in infections would increase hospitalizations, “with subsequent overload for health systems, up to a possible collapse, as has happened in various countries during this pandemic.”

By: Junno Arocho Esteves @