Catholic bishops urge parishes in England and Wales to reach out to ‘COVID curious’
CNA Staff, Apr 23, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).
The bishops of England and Wales asked parishes on Friday to reach out to people who have discovered Catholicism for the first time amid the pandemic.
In a reflection entitled “The Day of the Lord,” released April 22, the bishops urged Catholic communities to pay special attention to a group they called the “COVID curious.”
They said: “There are those whom we might describe as the ‘COVID curious,’ those who have come into contact with the Catholic Church through our presence on the internet -- a contact we may be able to develop through our continuing presence across diverse media platforms.”
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool, pictured April 1, 2011 / Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.
Speaking at a virtual press conference on Friday, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool noted that participation in Holy Week services was much higher at his cathedral this year than previously, thanks to the internet.
“We have discovered with online streaming, live streaming of Masses, that we get enormous congregations sometimes,” said McMahon, the vice-president of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference.
“I know, for example, in my own cathedral in Liverpool over the Holy Week and Easter ceremonies, we had something like 11,000 people attend -- which is probably three times, maybe, what we would have at the cathedral during Holy Week and Easter -- as well as those, of course, who were attending in person, because our doors were open for the whole week but with restricted numbers.”
The “COVID curious” is one of three groups that the bishops are asking parishes to focus on in the “post-pandemic recovery” period.
A second consists of those who are afraid of returning to church or have lost the habit of Mass attendance after public worship was suspended in March 2020.
“Personal contact, clear reassurance, and sensitive invitations will all be needed,” the bishops said of the group.
The third group includes those who have reassessed their lives during the coronavirus crisis and concluded that they have no need of communal worship.
“A gap may have opened up, or widened, between the spiritual dimension of their lives and any communal expression of that spiritual quest. They represent a particular focus and concern for our outreach,” the bishops commented.
The bishops’ issued the message at the end of their spring plenary meeting, which included both online discussions and a day-long in-person meeting about the environment.
During the April 19-22 meeting, they continued their deliberations about a new Lectionary -- the book containing the Scripture readings used at Mass -- to replace the current one first published in 1969.
They also sent condolences to Queen Elizabeth II following the death of her husband, Prince Philip, as well as a message of congratulations to the Queen on her 95th birthday.
In their reflection on the challenges facing the post-pandemic Church, the bishops emphasized that Sunday Mass should be restored to the center of Catholic life.
They said: “At this moment, then, we need to have in our sights the need to restore to its rightful centrality in our lives the Sunday Mass, encouraging each to take his or her place once again in the assembly of our brothers and sisters.”
“We face the task of seeking to nurture the sense of Sunday as ‘a weekly gift from God to his people,’ and something we cannot do without; to see Sunday as the soul of the week, as giving light and meaning to all the responsibilities we live out each day; to see the Sunday Eucharist as food for the unique mission with which we have been endowed.”
McMahon told journalists that the bishops of England and Wales did not have a date in mind for the restoration of the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days.
He said: “We really, really want to encourage people to come back to church for the reasons which are in ‘The Day of the Lord.’ That basically we go back to church for the love of the Eucharist, because it’s for us the source and the end of all that we do as Christians.”
“And for those who can’t do that, we don’t want to burden them with an obligation that they can’t fulfill at present, because some people are still nervous about coming out. They want to stay at home and feel safe.”
He added: “I think this approach -- a softly, softly approach, if you like -- is obviously a better one than reintroducing obligations, which is a concept that is known to Catholics but is a bit strange to some other people.”