Article originally posted in The Catholic Times
By Tim Puet
Catholic Times Reporter
The spread of the coronavirus has altered life in major ways throughout central Ohio, bringing about the closing of schools for at least three weeks, the closing of all bars and restaurants, a ban on most large gatherings and the cancellation of professional, college and high school sports events.
It also has resulted in a significant impact for all institutions of the Diocese of Columbus. Bishop Robert Brennan joined the bishops of four of Ohio’s other five Catholic dioceses and the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Cleveland on Monday, March 16 in temporarily suspending all publicly celebrated Masses in the state through Easter Sunday.
Four days earlier, the bishops had dispensed all Catholics who live in Ohio or are currently in the state from the obligation of attending Saturday Vigil or Sunday Masses through the end of March.
“This decision is not taken lightly and, as your bishops, causes us great sadness,” the bishops said in a statement released through the Catholic Conference of Ohio. “”However, after consultation with the governor and health officials, we are convinced that this is the most prudent and necessary action.
“Science has proven that participation in public gatherings significantly increases the risk of contagion. This poses a serious danger to those especially most vulnerable.”
“As Catholics, in every Sunday Mass we celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord. The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. In this moment, we are experiencing in a unique way the passion of Our Lord as this pandemic prevents us from gathering for the Sunday Eucharist. In this very difficult time, we encourage the faithful to turn to the Church’s treasury of prayer.
“Sunday remains a holy day, and we encourage the faithful to pray using the rich resources of our faith, including praying as a family or individually the rosary, Divine Mercy chaplet, the Liturgy of the Hours, Stations of the Cross, etc. We also urge you to participate in prayer by way of radio broadcast or televised or live-streamed Mass and make a spiritual communion.”
“I can’t begin to tell you how saddened I am by this,” Bishop Brennan said in a letter on March 16 to priests and parish administrators. “It goes against every ounce of my being. The facts in the end were simply overwhelming. I am very sorry.”
The bishop said funerals and weddings could continue to take please, but added that such events should be restricted to family members.
The bishop celebrated a special Mass of Mary, Health of the Sick on March 13 in the cathedral and said at that time in his homily that the next few weeks should be a period ”to gather ourselves together spiritually, through prayer and kindness, so that the healthier might be able to change their behavior in such a way as to protect those who are weaker, more vulnerable. When we make sacrifices, we also band together in love, in charity to one another.”
Most parish, school and diocesan events have been canceled, and the diocesan office building will be open four days a week on a limited schedule. Diocesan employees have been directed to work from home as much as possible.
All 11 high schools and 42 elementary schools in the diocese are closed as a result of the governor’s March 12 order halting kindergarten through 12th-grade classes in all Ohio schools until Monday, April 6. Preschools located in elementary school buildings also are closed. Diocesan school Superintendent Adam Dufault said stand-alone preschools were deciding on an individual basis whether to close. He said parents with questions about closings should call individual schools.
The diocesan Office of Religious Education and Catechesis last week sent Parish School of Religion directors a letter recommending cancellation of all PSR activities through Sunday, April 5. That date is likely to change as a result of the bishops’ latest decision.
Ohio Dominican University will offer classes only online through the end of the spring semester in May and told students on March 16 to vacate residence halls, All campus events scheduled for the semester were canceled or postponed, including commencement on Saturday, May 9. Alternative options to recognize this year’s graduating class are being considered. All non-essential university employees began to work from home on Tuesday, March 17.
Classes have been suspended at the Pontifical College Josephinum, where seminarians from throughout the nation attend classes. Students were asked to return to their home dioceses by Thursday, March 19. Classes will resume online or through other delivery methods beginning Monday, March 23, continuing at least through Friday, April 3.
Students were told in a letter from Father Steven Beseau, the college’s rector/president, that they may be asked to return to campus at the end of the institution’s already scheduled Easter break on Monday, April 20 or that courses may continue online through the end of the semester on Friday, May 15.
Rachel Lustig, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Social Services, said her agency will continue to provide basic services such as food, bill paying and access to medical appointments, and essential services related to legal, medical, mental health and housing issues to the 35,000 people it serves.
The agency is following all safety practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and is strengthening its information technology structure with the goal of giving all staff members the ability to work from home by Friday, March 20.
These practices include the use of electronic communications, phone conversations, picking up of food supplies, and more to make sure that no one served by CSS is left isolated.
“We assume the pandemic will continue through the next few weeks,” Lustig said. “We are working with the most vulnerable populations, many of whom are seniors and immigrants who are particularly susceptible to this disease and to barriers to health care access. Our goal is to over-communicate with clients, with one another, and with funding sources, donors and the general public.
“We will reach out to our clients proactively and more frequently, though with less in-person contact. Although we have to restrict contact, in line with CDC procedures, we will be helping our staff have access to all the information necessary to help vulnerable people get the care they need.”
The CSS Our Lady of Guadalupe Center food pantry on Columbus’ west side, usually open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, will have food available Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The pantry has been is a choice pantry, meaning people can choose their food in a supermarket-type setup, but the Guadalupe Center will not be open to customers until further notice. Instead, prepackaged boxes of food will be offered. For information on changes in other CSS programs, go to www.colscss.org.
The pantry at the Bishop Griffin Resource Center on the city’s east side is expanding its hours. It will be open from noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays, in addition to its previous hours of 9 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays and 2 to 4:30 p.m. Fridays. No donations are being accepted at this time, and families are limited to one three-bag box per visit.
The food and nutrition center at St. Stephen’s Community House will only be distributing pre-boxed food to take home, but has expanded its eligibility requirements through the end of March and now is open to all Franklin County residents, rather than only those from eight ZIP codes. Families will be able to take food home once a week. Hours are noon to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.
St. Lawrence Haven, operated by the diocesan St. Vincent de Paul Society and located next to Columbus Holy Cross Church, has changed its hours. It now is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. instead of 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday to provide prepackaged lunches.
Operations have been restricted at the Holy Family Soup Kitchen in the Franklinton neighborhood. There will be no sit-down dinners. It will have a limited pantry signup at 8:30 a.m. on weekdays, distribution of “woods bags” and mail at 9:30 and limited pantry service at 10:30.
“We are not in retreat mode by any standard,” Bishop Brennan said in a letter to the faithful accompanying the Ohio bishops’ March 13 announcement related to Sunday Masses. “In fact, your priests and I desire to serve you all the more fervently. Similarly, as Catholics we want to serve the poor and vulnerable even more. We need to imagine new ways to achieve this in order to protect the health and well-being of the very people we desire to serve. Clearly, the situation changes daily and we will try to remain in contact. The diocesan website will contain a special page with resources for information and prayer. These will include possible resources for families to use on Sundays.
“Above all, we must be instruments of hope in the Lord. In his message for the World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis reminds us of the tender gaze of Jesus who himself became frail, endured human suffering and received comfort from his Father. Let’s be strong in our prayer for one another, especially for the sick, their caregivers, those in the medical professions and those entrusted with the charge of care for public health. Be sure of my prayers and deep concern for you.”