Sadness and hope as churches close

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Fr Greg Morgan shuts the doors of St Charles Borromeo church in Ryde for the last time as places of worship are shut down on 23 March 2020. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Historic church closures as Australia begins lockdowns

A few minutes after the morning Mass at St Charles Borromeo in Ryde, parish priest Fr Greg Morgan FMVD closed the large wooden doors of the church.

It was 11.59 on 23 March, 2020. One minute later, all the churches in the country were required to close, possibly for six months.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement late on 22 March tightening social distancing requirements to include the closing of places of worship along with pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafes and indoor sporting venues.

Beautiful but ‘very sad’ goodbye

“This is devastating and it is heartbreaking,” Mr Morrison said in an address to the House of Representatives in Canberra on 23 March, speaking of the small business owners who worried about keeping their livelihoods afloat. He urged people of faith to turn to their God saying “I can assure you, my prayer knees are getting a workout”.

Parishioners observe social distancing guidelines in the last Mass at St Charles Borromeo before the shutdown. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Rita Chee, 67, said she had rushed to attend the Mass when she saw a notification on her phone that it would be the last one. “I was saying my prayers and trying not to go onto my phone, but it said last Mass at 11 o’clock and I’m so glad I came, it was beautiful but I’m also very sad,” she said.

“I try to come at least three times during the week but now I will spend more time praying, saying the rosary, and we have a School of Word here which offers scripture reflections that I will receive on email.”

“I am sad, very sad.”

Jelica Borovnjak also attends Mass several days a week, and wiped tears away as she thought about the fact she would not be returning any time soon. “I am very sad, very sad,” she said, adding that she expects also to spend more time praying at home.

Parish finding creative ways to serve

The Ryde-Gladesville parish youth co-ordinator Jemille West said she found the unprecedented loss of public Masses “really hard”. “It’s going to make us really want Mass more and miss it, miss being in community with people and physically seeing Jesus [in the Eucharist] in front of us as well,” she said.

Jelica Borovnjak with her rosary which she will use to pray her private prayers each day in her own home while churches are closed. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“But I also have a kind of joy, as Father Greg said this morning nothing can happen outside of the Lord’s plan and that’s really a conviction for me that the Lord still wants us to serve no matter the situation.”

The parish has an email newsletter and blog on its website and while Fr Morgan is not planning to live stream Masses himself, he will promote others such as Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP’s and US Bishop Robert Barron’s. There will also be a buddy system where younger, healthy volunteers buy groceries or run chores for the elderly or sick shut in their homes, or simply offer to call on the phone every few days for social support.

Fr Morgan told The Catholic Weekly that he felt deeply for people who are “living in anguish” during this time.

“There’s talk in the newspapers about the problems of mental health issues worsening and I think one of the greatest things we can do is bolster people’s faith, by showing them that in the midst of all this that God is there,” he said.

“Now we need to find creative ways to bring Jesus to people.”

“We’re aware that it’s precisely at this moment that we need to be community. And perhaps now more than ever we have a mission to go beyond the borders of our parish to others.”

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