Priests across Sydney are already on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, preparing practically and spiritually to minister in rapidly changing circumstances in the weeks and months ahead.
At St Vincent’s public and private hospitals and the Sacred Heart Health Service in Darlinghurst, volunteers were sent home weeks ago but the 20-odd chaplaincy team is hard at work being a “beacon of hope” to patients and staff said chaplain Fr Darryl Mackie, the mission integration manager at St Vincent’s private hospital.
“As Pope Francis has said we need to give the strength of faith, the gift of hope and the certainty of charity,” Fr Mackie said.
“And as the Pope and Archbishop Fisher are also saying, we need to be there for our sick. That is our first priority at this time and people can be assured that all of our staff are well-trained in infection control,” he told The Catholic Weekly.
“We have very strict guidelines about how to do the anointing of the sick. We won’t be spreading the illness to them; we know how to look after patients in a time like this.”
If you are sick, please stay home
One important message Fr Darryl wanted to share was that people feeling even slightly unwell should stay away from visiting a hospital.
“We are here for our clergy too, if they need to know about or any questions about how best to support sick parishioners that we are happy to help them too,” he said.
Last week while the Sydney archdiocese’s and Maronite Catholic parishes were still offering public Masses, capped at 100 for indoor and 500 for outdoor congregations, parishes were already planning creative ways to continue worship and sacraments, ministries and other spiritual and practical support should church services be suspended.
After the closure of all places of worship on 23 March Our Lady of the Rosary in Fairfield is one of several parishes live streaming daily Mass, on its Facebook page at 7.30am every Tuesday to Sunday, following Eucharist Adoration from 6.30am.
‘We are here for you’
Parish priest Father Michael de Stoop said that he and his assistant priests Fr Josh Miechels and Fr William Chow were readily available to serve the anxious, the sick and the dying, including those suffering from COVID-19.
“We are prepared to go to the bedside of people who are dying,” said Fr de Stoop.
“Obviously there are risks involved and we will be taking the necessary precautions such as wearing a mask and gloves and perhaps even goggles, precautions which the archbishop himself has noted, but we are very willing to do that.”
St Aloysius of Gonzaga parish in Cronulla live streamed its first parish event, a Lenten group discussion on reconciliation and modern slavery on 18 March and has started live streaming its 8am Tuesday to Sunday, and 5pm Saturday Masses, as well as Eucharistic Adoration, the praying of vespers and other events on its Facebook page.
Parish priest Father James McCarthy is posting regular updates on the parish’s Facebook page and like so many others along with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP in his latest pastoral letter, encourages the faithful to keep Sundays holy with private prayer or participation in a streamed Mass online.
“Spiritual input, advice, support and updates for all parishioners will continued to be communicated through the parish’s Facebook page and website,” Fr McCarthy said.
“Social media may prove to be a safe method of participating and gathering together during this time of crisis and of helping to provide pastoral support.”