Catholic agencies and individuals around the country were busy working from home and providing still-open “essential services” supporting communities in need during the Level 4 Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown.
Ingenuity was used at a time when essential Catholic spiritual work such as attending to the sick and dying was severely restricted by Level 4 rules.
Fr Maurice Carmody of Plimmerton, north of Wellington, said kerbside prayers for the dead as funeral directors paused their hearse outside his home, which is close to St Theresa’s church, where he is parish priest.
Fr Carmody met the funeral directors – at the required social distance – by the roadside. Standing near the open rear door of the hearse, he said the prayers of final commendation while the family watched and prayed over a phone video link.
“I was able to pray the prayers and bless the remains of their loved ones knowing they were there,” Fr Carmody said. “It was a beautiful experience, and it was something I felt graced to do.”
Archdiocese of Wellington Vicar for Māori Deacon Danny Karatea-Goddard has been using technology to remotely accompany whānau in their tangi.
“Even though we are not able to be there kanohi ki te kanohi [face-to-face], we are reaching out using alternatives. It’s not the best way of doing things, but it’s what we can do.”
Deacon Karatea-Goddard said he is able to train younger whānau members to offer words of farewell and prayer: “Families themselves are drawing on their own resources.”
Technology could not help with all funeral lockdown problems, but grieving families were asked to contact parishes to link with the support available. The Government has said the intended change to Alert Level 3 scheduled for April 28 would allow ten people to attend a funeral, though families will need to decide who the ten would be.
With churches closed by the lockdown rules, online Mass has been extremely popular. Daily Mass is streamed live in each of the country’s six dioceses and from many parishes, with priests and bishops celebrating Mass within their “bubbles”. The National Liturgy Office regularly updates its list of online Masses. See www.nlo.org.nz/news-and-events/media-releases/celebrate-mass-online/
Work that is less visible nationally, but very important locally, is happening everywhere. In Dunedin, two Society of St Vincent de Paul staff have continued to work providing food parcels. Because the usual donations of food at parish Masses has not been available, food has been bought with donated money, including with a grant from the Tindall Foundation.
The Dunedin and Central Otago Catholic Social Services (CSS) counselling and social work teams are keeping in touch with people using Zoom and phone calls, providing support, counselling, information and helping people get food parcels, technology support and financial help when needed.
Mike Tonks, CSS Dunedin director, said life for some people has been a little easier under lockdown, with some having less anxiety and reporting they are coping better.
In Christchurch, Catholic Social Services manager Jon Brian said team members are working from home to support parishioners via phone and video link. People have been pleased to “unload” to a professional counsellor outside their “bubble”, he said.
“Almost all the people reached didn’t expect to be contacted or to be able to contact counsellors; they were pleasantly surprised and grateful for that,” Mr Brian said.
Catholic hospital chaplains have been working from home, connecting with patients and hospital staff by phone and other devices. Wellington hospital chaplain Lizzie Wootton said chaplains are learning to adapt to new rhythms and routines, at a time when face-to-face contact is not possible. But she is able to talk to and pray with people in hospital using their own and hospital phones.
“I try to be present to them, because human presence in any form helps with mental health and healing,” she said.
Wellington’s Compassion Soup Kitchen has doubled its meal production to more than 150 a day since the lockdown started. Operating under Level 4 as an essential service for the city’s most vulnerable people, the kitchen has closed its communal dining area, instead distributing meals at the door.
In Auckland, Catholic Social Services, Catholic Caring Foundation and St Vincent de Paul’s foodbank in Newton are working together to get food parcels out to the elderly. Parishes are also responding to the crisis by setting up phone groups to call elderly parishioners to see who needs help.
One parish is forwarding fresh produce to Vinnies, while another is ensuring that protective gear is made available to the volunteers and staff at the foodbank. Another parish programme is being set up to help the elderly receive their flu vaccinations.
NZ Catholic understands that, as of April 27, the Auckland Vinnies had also helped more than 2000 families with food boxes since the start of the lockdown.