Even in lockdown, St Martha keeps busy

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A statue of Martha is placed within sight of the glass doors of her parish in Strathfield, which is the centre of an extraordinary outreach during the pandemic lockdown. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Hope is spreading faster than a virus in Strathfield

That’s because hope is even more contagious. It’s the message from St Martha’s parish in Strathfield which is being embraced by young and old.

Thousands of people across Sydney and beyond will soon be familiar with a clear acrylic keepsake emblazoned with the word ‘hope’ that the parish has produced and sent to bishops around the country in the hope they will use them in their own dioceses. The keepsake comes with a free prayer card that can also be downloaded from the St Martha’s website.

It’s just one of the ways the parish team led by Fr Jacek Cichy have come up with to spread hope not only to the elderly and isolated parishioners but all affected by the virus pandemic.

Parishioner Greg Glass said women of the parish have “been keeping very busy” reaching out to its isolated. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Pastoral care packages including items such as holy water, prayer cards and the weekly bulletin are being delivered weekly to elderly and isolated parishioners, and vulnerable parishioners are telephoned each week.

“Isolation is difficult for the older community, and just knowing there is someone they can contact who lives close by and can drop off some groceries or tell them how they can watch a live-streamed Mass can give them a lot of comfort,” said sacramental coordinator Patricia Saad.

The church is illuminated from within every night, with a sacred space including a large cross and statue of St Martha just inside. The altar and tabernacle are also clearly visible from outside to the people who spontaneously stop by to pray in ones and twos.

Jason Gereis was one of the volunteers who delivered palm crosses, holy water and prayer leaflets to a number of parishioners before Palm Sunday. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

From a table outside the front door parishioners can take the weekly bulletin, prayers, inspirational quotes from saints or other materials which are regularly updated to provide faith nourishment.

Along with St Mary’s Cathedral and other Sydney parishes, St Martha’s rings its bells five times each day for the Church’s special intentions during the pandemic, while its 10am Sunday Mass is live-streamed via Facebook and YouTube.

Building may be locked, but church is ‘definitely alive’

Thomas, Celeste and Sophia Saad with items from the parish for their prayer space at home. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Fr Jacek said he is as busy as ever and would be planning new ways to spread hope on ANZAC Day and Mother’s Day. “We chose the concept of hope for our campaign because hope is something all of us recognise that we need; Catholics, non-Catholics and non-believers,” he said.

“I am very grateful to our volunteers because there are a lot of people involved in this process of spreading hope. The building may be locked up but the church is definitely alive.”

“There are a lot of people…spreading hope”

Parish secretary Nicole Mazzaferro agreed that a small team of people “moved mountains” when churches were closed to pivot to live-streaming Masses, revamping St Martha’s website and launching the ‘hope’ campaign.

It wouldn’t have been possible without the enthusiastic support of local businesses Clare Communications, The Net Unleashed and Trophy Land, she added.

“There is a lot of pastoral work to do because people can’t come to the church so we have to bring the church to people,” she said.

Mrs Saad said that St Martha’s had adapted to serve its parishioners in countless ways over more than 100 years. “This is an unusual time and very worrying for many people, but we want to tell everyone that you can have hope, and you can carry hope wherever you go,” she said.

Long-time parishioner and lector Greg Glass said that while he misses going to daily Mass “nothing can stop you going by the door and making a visit in that way to the Blessed Sacrament”.

“I was raised to never walk past a church, to always stop and make a visit,” he said.
Mr Glass said he is convinced that the restrictions on churches would open “new doors to prayer”.

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