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 @

Are we ready to celebrate His birth every day of our life?

As we welcome this Christmas Day, we cannot but remember the many struggles and challenges that we have faced this past year. How often did our hearts imitate the lament of the holy men and women of Sacred Scripture who cried out to God for assistance in times of equal peril and fear? Even in our modern world that is blessed with the promise of vaccines that can fight the Coronavirus virus, who among us this past year was not humbled to admit the fragility of our own life? Who did not have their confidence shaken when faced with the sufferings of our neighbors and friends? Who among us did not wonder with anxiety what the future would bring?

In the light of such struggles during these dark and difficult months, we can ask one question today: what do we have to celebrate this Christmas? This pandemic has hung over our heads like a darkness that admitted little light to comfort us. What is there to celebrate?

My friends, the reason to celebrate is clear to the eyes of faith. We celebrate the promise of Christmas because of our deep conviction that God’s love, like a divine light, can pierce all darkness, no matter how deep or widespread it may be. Christmas celebrates the birth of the Son of God into a world mired in pain, suffering and challenge, born in a stable with only the animals to witness it.  His birth brought the victory of God’s love into the world 2000 years ago and now invites us this Christmas to welcome His love into our own lives. For if we welcome His love into our hearts and homes, then our joy will be rekindled, our hope strengthened, and we will have strength to meet the challenges of our lives. We celebrate Christmas with joyful hearts because God’s love is real, found in our midst and has never left us even during the struggles of these past ten months.

In fact, long before this Christmas day, we have seen how the love of God broke through the darkness. It came through the love of women and men who cared for patients in hospitals, long term care facilities and nursing homes. The love of Christmas came through the self-sacrificing work of our teachers who guided our children through remote and in person learning. The love of Christmas shone through our essential workers who persevered in the face of tremendous adversity to help people to eat and survive, the ministry of our clergy who brought the sacraments to people in their hour of greatest need and the thousands of scientists whose tireless work has created vaccines that promise to protect us from the ravages of the COVID-19 virus. We celebrate the divine love of Christmas because it is already in our midst and we have seen it with our own eyes.

In March, it appeared as though the world would be shrouded in a pall of darkness that seemed impenetrable. Yet the darkness did not prevail. Christmas came in every moment when love was brought into the world and will come again, in all its beauty, when we silently kneel before the Christ Child and welcome His divine love that will never fade, never fail and never end.

Whenever we saw the inbreaking of God’s love in our midst, many of us were also surprised by the gift of joy. For joy is a divine gift that comes to the heart of any person who dares to believe that God’s love will never falter. Joy is the abiding sense that “all things shall be well” even when we face suffering, sorrow, and loss as we have experienced this year. Joy is the confident assurance that God’s love will conquer every challenge. Joy comes to every human heart that welcomes the love of Christmas both on December 25th and every day of the year.

As we look upon the Christ Child born this day, we cannot forget that the world into which Christ was born, much like ours, was weary. Yet, Christ made his home in such a world. He seeks to make His home in our world as well. Are we ready to welcome the light of His love into our communities, families and our hearts? Are we ready to celebrate His birth every day of our life?

I recognize that this Christmas will be very different for past years. Many of us will be unable to safely see our families or participate in traditions we hold sacred. Many Catholics are still unable to attend Mass. Thousands remain unemployed or underemployed. Some of us are celebrating Christmas with newly empty chairs around the table. However, Christ’s love is with us. Let us be strengthened and refreshed in that love.

To my brothers and sisters of different faiths, and to all people of good will, I pray that you will find peace and joy in this season, and I pray that you will never allow the world to extinguish the fire of hope in our hearts for a better, more loving, more compassionate future.

May we open our hearts to receive the promise of Christmas and may you and your family be blessed by the Christ Child, the light of the world, and find true joy in the New Year.

Bishop Caggiano

Pandemic takes us back to the “lesson of the desert”

BRIDGEPORT— The pandemic has been a time of spiritual difficulty for many in which we have been challenged to set aside what we thought was important and “embrace the things that really matter most– especially the spirit of surrender and trust in God’s love in the midst of so much pain and suffering, ” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in his online Mass for the second Sunday of Advent.

Reflecting on the account of John the Baptist preaching in the desert, the bishop said the work of discipleship is “ learning what to leave behind and learning what to value and to cling to wholly and completely.”

He began his homily in the Catholic Center chapel by noting that the Gospel of Mark (Mark 1:1-8) places us before the image of the enigmatic yet towering person we know as John the Baptist “who is both the last Old Testament prophet and the bridge to the coming of the Messiah.”

The description we have of John the Baptist indicates he was not conventional in dress, in the food he ate, or in his ministry, the bishop pointed out.
“To understand why John the Baptist is so important in the life of the Church, we need to ask a basic question about the place he chose to preach,” he said. “Why is it that John chose to appear in the desert?”

The bishop said that if John wanted to reach as many people as possible, he could easily have preached in the middle of Jerusalem but he chose the desert at a time when most people could not safely venture into it, and those who did could not easily find John in the barren wasteland.

“John the Baptist chose the desert for a particular reason—and that reason continues to challenge anyone who wishes to be a disciple of the Messiah. To go into the desert means there is much we leave behind and much we need to take with us—and making those choices is all the difference.”

The bishop said he was privileged to travel into the Judean desert on his last visit to the Holy Land, and that “even today, it calls for leaving behind comforts and anything we consider normal in our lives.”

On his pilgrimage he also learned quickly that it is fool-hearty to enter the desert alone. “You need the company of others and also the experience of those who have be there before you because all directions—north, south, east and west—are similar,” he said.

In a desert experience, “you quickly leave any sense that I can get through life alone. What you do bring is a spirt of trust, a spirit of surrender, a spirit of running into the arms of God,” he said.

By John going into the desert he is asking us to discover the road of discipleship–and that requires an ability to let go of what we want and trust in God, he said.
“The greater gift is to enter like little children who know the father will always be with us, who seek him out, follow his lead, and value him above our safety and comforts and all we know of our routine life.”

The bishop concluded his homily with a question and a challenge. “Now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and please God we will have vaccines soon to be disturbed among the most vulnerable first and eventually for all of us, I ask you, Are we willing not to forget the lesson of the desert?”

The bishop’s Online Mass: The Bishop’s Sunday Mass is released online every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and available for replay throughout the day. To view the Bishop’s Sunday Mass, recorded and published weekly, click this link or visit the YouTube Mass Playlist.

For information on the Sunday Family Rosary every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. visit:

Offering thanks during a pandemic

A Thanksgiving reflection by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano

Thanksgiving Day was always my father’s favorite holiday. He loved it for many reasons, not the least of which was for the incredible meal my mother used to cook. I remember those days fondly; we began with a big breakfast, watched the same movie later that morning, and then we would sit at the table for hours. I delighted in that time with my family, in the traditions, and of course, in the food.

I’m sure many of us share very happy memories of Thanksgiving, which makes this year of the pandemic so much more troubling, knowing that we cannot safely gather in large numbers–even in our own homes with those who are dearest to us. In a year of much loss and anxiety, this is yet another heavy burden.

It may seem inappropriate to speak of giving thanks during a pandemic when so many have died, and so many others have become ill. However, I believe that only with a deep and abiding sense of gratitude in our hearts we can hope for better days and persevere before any challenge.

Perhaps we should let this most difficult year be an occasion to reflect on the full meaning of Thanksgiving in our lives. In my view, Thanksgiving is a holiday that draws upon deep Judeo-Christian religious roots. As Christians, ours is a faith of thanksgiving for the many gifts and blessings that God has given us. Everything we have, we owe to God’s love and providence. For Christians, a spirit of thanksgiving should be the foundation of every day of our lives.

In fact, the Eucharist, which we receive during the celebration of Holy Mass and we believe to be the source and summit of our Catholic faith, is derived from the Greek word, eucharistia, which means “thanksgiving.” This means that every time we attend Mass, we are invited to thank God the Father, through Jesus His son, for the gifts in our life, and the priceless gift of eternal life to come.

On a personal level the pandemic has disrupted our lives and caused us to feel anxiety. Yet we must not lose sight of the growing number of those who have felt the economic consequences of job loss that has led to growing homelessness, hunger, and even despair. As we experience this unexpected vulnerability, let us pray that it deepens our bonds with our sisters and brothers across the globe who have long faced daily uncertainty, including chronic unemployment, food instability and a lack of medical care.

It has also been a year in which many Catholics remain afraid or unable to attend Sunday Mass and those who do attend abide by significant restrictions designed to keep all safe. These precautions are necessary, but they are not easy, and I am very grateful to see such universal cooperation with the protocols that we have put in place to safeguard life.

We are also encouraged by the response of so many who have come forward to help those in need. In our diocese Catholic Charities has performed extraordinary works of service, parish volunteers have reached out to those who are most vulnerable, and our dedicated teachers and staff have kept diocesan schools open to safeguard our children. Likewise, every day, we witness the courageous and inspiring response of other faith traditions and all people of good will to help those in need.

As people of faith we believe God has remained present to us since the pandemic began. How can we look upon the faces of our brothers and sisters on the front lines of health care who each day run into the breach and not be overwhelmed with gratitude for their goodness and their courage? How can we look upon those who comfort the sick and their families and do everything possible to save lives without profound thankfulness for their very witness? How can we not see the face of God in them and all those who have acted with courage and compassion?

We must not forget that even in our moments of profound suffering and grief, the love of God, made manifest in the Eucharist and in the love of our brothers and sisters, will triumph over every challenge. We know that God does not desire for us to suffer. However, when we do, he is present with us, holding us in the palm of his hands and promising us that he will never let go. Knowing that God will always keep his promises, even in the face of all that I have just described, I remain overwhelmed with a deep sense of deep gratitude that God will bring us renewal and new life.

My friends, I know that there are many challenges ahead during the coming weeks. Yet I invite you to join me in pausing today not only to look forward in patient hope for the vaccines that will save millions of lives, but to remember that our God has not and never will abandon us.

As we sit down with loved ones this Thanksgiving—or perhaps gather together virtually—let us find reasons for gratitude, for therein lies our hope. Let us also pray for our own families and for those struggling with the hardship of separation this year, and most of all for those who are afflicted with Covid-19, and for the many in our midst who have suffered the loss of loved ones.

In this spirit of remembrance and gratitude, I wish you and your family a very healthy, blessed, and happy Thanksgiving.

Seminarians serve others amid pandemic

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — A century ago, seminarians from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood helped bury Philadelphia’s dead in the global Spanish influenza pandemic.

This year, the young men of St. Charles are helping to keep hungry people alive during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Apostolic work in addition to classroom studies has long been a regular part of the seminarians’ formation in which they fan out two-by-two to schools, senior facilities and other settings to serve people in the community.

But because of the social restrictions of COVID-19, those opportunities for service are gone this year. In their place arose a partnership between the seminary’s apostolic formation program, led by Father George Szparagowski, and Caring for Friends, a private multiservice organization feeding hungry people throughout the area for 46 years.

Sixteen seminarians of St. Charles’ College Division traveled to Northeast Philadelphia Nov. 5 for a four-hour shift at Caring for Friends, assembling meals and boxing them for distribution to people in the five-county region of southeastern Pennsylvania.

The young men split into groups, with some assembling nutritionally balanced meals in single-serving trays in the spacious kitchen. Others worked an assembly line placing seven meals in a box, stacking the boxes on pallets in collaboration with the group Muslims Serve and some young men from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and storing the meals in walk-in freezers for later distribution to homebound seniors.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia’s center city, another group of about a half-dozen seminarians handed out food to homeless visitors at Hub of Hope, a shelter run by Project HOME out of Suburban Station.

Directly feeding the neediest in the community “is eye-opening and pretty awesome,” said Adam Johnson, a fourth-year college seminarian studying for the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey.

“In helping other people, we’re putting faith in action,” he told, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

His classmate Rob Bollinger, a member of St. Agnes Parish in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, and a Philadelphia seminarian, put his experience in a broader perspective.

“There’s something really beautiful about serving,” Bollinger said. “It feeds my daily life in the sense that it’s not something temporary (but) more meaningful because it’s not self-serving, but it’s serving others.”

All 24 men in the seminary’s College Division work every other week at Caring for Friends and food centers such as Hub of Hope “to grow in the virtue of charity,” said Father Szparagowski.

He praised the service partnership and said the seminarians enjoy their experience “because it builds up fraternity. We all work together (and) we look forward to it.”

“They see the purpose of their work — feeding people — especially people who come in to pick up food (at parishes). They didn’t realize how many people in Philadelphia need help. A lot of times it’s working-class people that just need food assistance, and that really surprised them. They love helping people, and they love the interaction,” he said.

Especially grateful to provide seminarians with a way to serve the community and to add to the ranks of volunteers he greatly needs is Vince Schiavone, CEO of Caring for Friends.

Formerly called Aid for Friends, it was begun by his mother, Rita, in her Northeast Philadelphia home. Her vision was to set aside some of the family’s dinner each night and bring it to lonely, homebound seniors and deliver them a home-cooked meal and companionship. That work continues under a new name and a greatly expanded mission.

Today, Caring for Friends’ threefold mission continues to include serving seniors. Individuals still provide single-serve meals in aluminum trays, and along with the meals prepared at Caring for Friends’ kitchen, they are frozen and distributed to seniors from its warehouse.

But the operation has ramped up significantly this year. Schiavone said before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, his organization was supporting 2,000 seniors through meals and boxes of food delivered each month in the region. That number has swelled to 33,000 seniors currently.

Caring for Friends also is a food bank that, according to Schiavone, supports shelters, recovery houses and some 250 community food cupboards at parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and all houses of worship.

It also supplies food to Muslims Serve, which serves at Hub of Hope, plus St. John’s Hospice, Bethesda Project, Ronald McDonald House and local politicians’ offices where people seek food assistance.

Schiavone said last January, “we were giving out about 100,000 pounds of food a month and during COVID it’s been over a million pounds of food a month.”

His organization also operates a “caring kitchen” where a great deal of food is prepared to be handed out wherever the needs for food exist. That includes making 850 sandwiches each week for one organization alone — the local Society of St. Vincent de Paul — and distributing snack bags made by schoolchildren and community groups throughout the region.

This is the mission of service in which the St. Charles seminarians are immersed.

“Seminarians are helping in a time of great need,” Schiavone said.

By Matthew Gambino | Catholic News Service

Editor’s note: Earlier this month Bishop Frank J. Caggiano announced that college-seminarians and pre-theologians from the Diocese of Bridgeport will undertake their formation and studies at St. Charles Borromeo in Philadelphia beginning in January 2021.  (see the November issue of Fairfield County Catholic for the full story).

Priest serves the sick and dying during pandemic 

STAMFORD—During the COVID-19 pandemic, 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.

“We are so fortunate to have him during this pandemic,” says Marjorie Simpson, senior executive director at the St. Camillus Center, explaining how Father Mauriello would go room to room to visit residents.

“With this coronavirus situation, families of the residents were not allowed hold their hand as they were dying,” says Father Mauriello, explaining how, after serving at the center for years, he had acquired contact information of resident’s older children and built up relationships with them.

Thomas Kolenberg, a member of St. Augustine Council #41 in Stamford tells a story of how he found out his mother was COVID-positive. “I really thought it was the last time I would see my mother,” he says.

Kolenberg describes arriving at the center at the same time as the ambulance. Father Mauriello ran back to the sacristy, put on his protective gear, and heard Kolenberg’s mother’s confession, gave her holy communion and anointed her.

Kolenberg’s mother was the very first patient at St. Camillus to go from COVID-positive to COVID-negative. “Father Matt was there the whole time to make sure that she continued to receive the sacraments, because of his charism as a priest and as a Knight of Columbus.”

“It has made all the difference that there is such a comforting soul here, who is 100 percent there for us, praying for us” says Simpson.

Watch the full video from the Knights of Columbus here.

Take Gospel to troubled people during pandemic

CLEVELAND (CNS) — Admitting that people’s faith in God “has been shaken” by the pandemic and related economic turmoil, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez called on his fellow bishops to take the news of the Resurrection and the triumph of life over death directly to people to help them navigate the crises.

“At the heart of their fears are fundamental questions about divine providence and the goodness of God,” said Archbishop Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Nov. 16 during an online address on the first day of bishops’ annual fall general assembly.

“This is far more than a public health emergency,” he said. “Everywhere we see spreading the fear of illness and death.”

The assembly was taking place entirely online for the first time because of the pandemic. Archbishop Gomez’s address was prerecorded.

The archbishop said the pandemic illustrates that the core message of the Gospel — Christ’s love for every person, the power of the cross and the promise of the resurrection — “is fading from our neighbors’ hearts.”

“Brothers, in this time of death, we hold the word of life. We come in the name of the God whose love is stronger than death,” he said.

The times, with their social unrest and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, “call for heroic Christianity,” he explained. “We need to continue to form and empower missionary disciples, as Pope Francis calls us to do.”

Citing the example of Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus and who was beatified Oct. 31 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut, Archbishop Gomez suggested the bishops confront modern-day injustices “by living the Gospel.”

He recalled how for the priest, “love was not an abstraction or cause” because he knew the faces of “the widow and the orphan, the father with no job, the prisoner on death row.”

“Following the courageous example of Blessed Michael McGivney, the church needs to weep now with those who are weeping,” he said. “We need to tell our neighbors the good news that we have a Redeemer. Who died, so that we might live. Who passed through the valley of the shadow of death so that we should fear no evil, not even death.”

He noted how Blessed McGivney died during the 1890 flu pandemic in which over 1 million people lost their lives worldwide. He said the likely future saint can be “a model and intercessor for our own ministries.”

Archbishop Gomez also pointed to the USCCB’s strategic plan the bishops were set to approve during the assembly as a path forward for ministry. Titled “Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope,” it sets the mission for the bishops “to continue to bring healing and hope to the people of our time,” he said.

In opening his address, Archbishop Gomez paused a moment to remember the children and adults within the church who are victim-survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

He also expressed “deep sorrow” and offered prayers that the victim-survivors “might find healing and hope” while acknowledging the Vatican’s recently released report on Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal who rose through the church’s hierarchical structure despite years of rumors of sexual impropriety.

“Let us renew our commitment today to protecting children and vulnerable adults and to eliminate this scourge of abuse from the church,” he said.

By Dennis Sadowski | Catholic News Service

Governor announces new guidelines for Churches

BRIDGEPORT—As the pandemic continues to worsen in our state, Governor Ned Lamont has announced the following new guidelines for Churches. The new guidelines go into effect this Friday, 11/6.

Mass and Liturgical Events
Indoors limited to 50% of capacity, no more than 100 people total
Outdoors limited to 100 people total

Non-liturgical Gatherings
Indoors limited to 25 people
Outdoors limited to 50 people

A reminder that registration is still required for Masses. There are no other changes to the most recent diocesan liturgical guidelines. For a complete listing of diocesan protocols, Covid-19 news and other updates, click here.

Some Parishes return to Phase 2 guidelines

BRIDGEPORT–  With a second wave of the coronavirus beginning to take hold across Fairfield County, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has updated health and safety protocols for the Diocese of Bridgeport.

In a memo to all clergy issued today, the bishop noted that several cities including Bridgeport, Danbury, and Stamford have reverted to the state’s Phase 2 reopening guidelines in response to a growing positivity rate and an increase in hospitalizations.

The Bishop announced that if a parish is located in a city or municipality that has returned to Phase 2, then the following guidelines are in effect:

1. Mass and Liturgical Events
a. Indoors limited to 25% of capacity, no more than 100 people total
b. Outdoors limited to 150 people total

2. Non-liturgical Gatherings
a. Indoors limited to 25 people
b. Outdoors limited to 100 people

The bishop said there are no other changes to the most recent diocesan liturgical guidelines.

In addition to limiting capacity, masks, proper social distancing, and frequent sanitization are essential.

The bishop thanked pastors and priests for their continued leadership and support of diocesan COVID-19 protocols during this challenging time.