Archbishop, faithful see grace amid outbreak struggles
March 18, 2020
In ordinary circumstances, Archbishop George J. Lucas has encouraged people to “look for the graces” in whatever they’re facing.
Now, as the coronavirus pandemic is affecting people across the archdiocese, his advice is even more pertinent.
Normal church operations have been severely curtailed, including the suspension of public Masses and other sacramental gatherings and liturgies.
“While this seems to be a moment of spiritual deprivation unlike anything we have yet experienced, it is also a powerful moment of grace,” the archbishop writes in his column in this edition of the Catholic Voice.
“There is a basic profession of our faith that is heard often at Easter and is true always: Jesus Christ is Lord,” the archbishop wrote. “Jesus is Lord at this challenging time, just as surely as he is in prosperous and peaceful times. We are in his hands. He counts us as his disciples and friends. He has something that he wishes to give us these days; he has something to ask of us.”
Members of his flock also know God is at work, especially in the sufferings and inconveniences experienced during the outbreak. Here are a few examples:
‘RUNNING TOWARD THE CHAOS’
Jumping in to help is innate for healthcare workers, said Dr. Sheilah Snyder, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha and a St. Columbkille parishioner.
The coronavirus outbreak has been just another reminder of this, she said via a private Facebook message.
“I went to a talk last year with a doc who had been running in the Boston Marathon when the bombing happened,” Dr. Snyder wrote. “She was minutes from the finish and she ‘ran toward the chaos’ as everyone else ran away. Her message was about running toward what you fear.
“Healthcare workers have an innate need to do good. We have more people on my team volunteering to do COVID work than patients to treat (for now). I think this selfless love for people is truly God’s presence. Yes, we can be scared, but this is what we do – we care for people.
“I’ve seen some amazing videos of people clapping from balconies in Spain and singing to healthcare workers in the streets in Italy. In medicine you run towards that which you fear to help where you can, care for those who need you. The biggest tragedy for us would be if we can’t help everyone who needs us.”
KEEPING IN TOUCH WITH THE ELDERLY
Terri English and Laura Higginbotham, both of St. Columbkille Parish, are among the many people who have relatives in care centers whom they are not allowed to visit because of coronavirus risks.
They wrote about their experiences through Facebook messenger.
Higginbotham said the staff at her mother’s care center does its best to keep the residents safe and healthy. “Therefore, the facility is on complete lockdown,” she wrote.
“I gave my cell number to a caregiver on my last visit allowed, and, when she is working, she dials my mom’s phone so we can at least speak to each other and feel a little less isolated.
“All of the caregivers are outstanding, but this particular one has a heart of gold.”
English said her family moved her 91-year-old mother to an assisted living facility last May.
“I come from a large, close-knit family,” English wrote. “We were in the routine of all gathering at mom’s house after Mass on Sunday morning, and that routine continued after she moved …
“She has a studio apartment, and on any given Sunday there can be up to 15 or more visitors crammed in her room. In addition to Sundays, Mom has regular visitors throughout the week. … On Saturdays, my sisters and I meet for lunch and we take Mom with us.”
Eventually the family was told their mother could have no visitors and only leave for doctor appointments. They were heartbroken, English said. “No Mass, no Saturday lunch, no Sunday family gathering!”
“My mom just says, ‘I’m lonesome.’ It’s so sad!”
But at least one family member, a nurse, might be able to visit to change a dressing on a wound. Having that family connection would indeed be a blessing, English said.
Emily Fanslau – a nurse at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and a bride who has had to rearrange her wedding plans at least twice – is at peace.
“I have a sense of calm,” she says, despite the effect the coronavirus outbreak has had on her work and her wedding, planned for April 18 at St. Columbkille Church in Papillion.
Fanslau and her fiance, Daniel Florance, have grown accustomed to disruptions. The two met as teenage lifeguards, but have been apart for much of the time since, as he entered the military and she went off to college.
They had planned for a big ceremony at St. Columbkille and a big reception, with 300 people invited.
But the coronavirus pandemic changed those plans when they learned that crowds had to be reduced at first to 250 people, and when domestic travel for military members was restricted. At least five people in their wedding party were in the military.
Days later, on March 16, government officials said gatherings should be limited to 10 people, another blow to Fanslau and Florance, both of whom have large extended families.
That evening the couple met with the deacon preparing them for marriage and came up with a plan. Their April wedding will go on – albeit much smaller and simpler than originally planned – with a Mass at St. Columbkille.
“We don’t want to delay that part of our life anymore,” Fanslau said.
The two plan to receive a blessing or renew their vows during a Mass at the church in August, before Florance enters law school. It will be followed by the reception in downtown Omaha that they had originally planned.
Fanslau said the disruptions and dashed plans have kept them focused on what’s most important: the sacrament of marriage they are about to enter and being surrounded by loved ones as they exchange their vows.
“The pomp and festivities are great,” she said, “but it’s never been about that stuff.”
As with other hardships they’ve endured, they’ve grown stronger in faith as a result, she said. “We’ve had to trust in God from the beginning.”
Sometimes graces can be small things. Ask Mary Zak, wife of Deacon John Zak at St. Peter Parish in Omaha.
“A small but touching (grace) was a note in our mailbox from neighbors, just saying here are our phone numbers and please feel free to call if you need anything,” she said in a Facebook message.
“These neighbors we have not yet met, but I’m sure they see John and I as ‘that old couple on the corner.’ We are both still working (in health care) but I thought that was very kind and thoughtful. We sent back our info and exchanged the same message.”
Teresa and Dave Wooten, of St. Columbkille, have given an extended stay at their home to foreign students at Mount Michael Benedictine School near Elkhorn.
The students, from Vietnam and South Korea, typically don’t go home for spring break, instead staying with the families of other Mount Michael students.
“We currently are hosting three of the seven-day boarders from Mount Michael,” Teresa Wooten messaged via Facebook.
“They are getting a really good dose of American life. We are all learning to share the space we are blessed to have. … We are getting along well and grateful for jobs that are not affected by this yet.”
Mandatory self quarantines that help keep people physically healthy can be dangerous for spiritual lives, Father Kevin Vogel said in a homily recorded for his YouTube channel.
People might think that they’re alone, but that’s a lie, said Father Vogel, associate pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Elgin, St. Bonaventure in Raeville, St. Peter de Alcántara in Ewing, St. Theresa of Ávila in Clearwater, St. John the Baptist in Deloit Township in rural Holt County and St. John the Baptist in Petersburg.
Even in isolation, people are not alone, Father Vogel said. “God never abandons us.”
He has been preaching about the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and will continue to do so even with public Masses suspended. His homilies can be found on YouTube by searching for Fr. Kevin Vogel. His YouTube channel has more than 1,700 subscribers.
He is encouraging people to continue to make Sundays holy. His parishes will use live streaming if possible. Other resources will be available through parish websites, Facebook, emails and texts.
“We need to make sure we all keep connected to God and each other,” he said in the March 15 homily. People should look out for those in their families and communities who might feel especially isolated, Father Vogel said.
“Even the most introverted among us were made for communion,” he said.
“As we strive to care for our physical bodies, we want to also let the Lord take care of our souls.”
Students, especially high school and college seniors, are lamenting the loss of once-in-a-lifetime events and opportunities.
“I am sad for the seniors and the possibility of what may never be these next two months,” said Laurie Imig, a St. Columbkille parishioner and mother of Billy Imig, a senior at Papillion-La Vista High School.
“I’m sad for the parents who have helped guide their children to this final endpoint and may be robbed of the joy of watching them walk across the stage at graduation,” she said. “I am sure this is a sentiment of many parents across the U.S. as they navigate these new waters with their kids.
“But we ‘lean not on our own understanding’ but lean on our God to get us through this. Right? Such a tough time in our country and so unbelievable that it can affect so many. We continue to pray for full healing of this virus and a chance to get back to some normalcy.”
‘GOD’S GOT US’
Ann and Roger Feldmann, also of St. Columbkille Parish, saw the graces of being surrounded by loved ones at the wedding of their daughter, Megan, to Peyton Schmitt, on March 14.
That was before attendance was limited to 10 or fewer at such gatherings.
The bride’s parents also recognized God’s presence with them as Ann led them in prayer before dinner at the reception in Omaha.
“Dear Lord,” she prayed, “we ask that right now, at this moment, that we’re just really cognizant of your presence here with us, with all that’s happening in this world right now. … And that if we really pause to reflect on that, we have so much to be thankful for. I’m thankful for our families, for our friends, for the food that we’re going to have, for the fellowship, for the memories that we create.
“Just thank you, Lord, for being part of every piece of our everyday lives,” she continued, “and for that comfort that you give us in good times and in hard times, that we know that you’re always with us. … We know that you’ve got us. … Let’s just reflect on that: God’s got us. God’s got us.”
Many families are typically “run, run, run,” Diane Anderson says.
The coronavirus restrictions give them the chance to slow down, with sports and other activities grinding to a halt, said Anderson, coordinator of education at Regina Caeli Academy in Omaha.
People may better understand their reliance on God and the importance of prayer, she said, as well as their reliance on church, family and neighbors.
Perhaps, also, people are realizing their mortality, Anderson said. “We need to prepare ourselves for heaven.”
GRACES OF FAMILY, NEIGHBORS
Julianne Popelka, a musician at St. Columbkille, is seeing graces in staying home, going on walks and keeping in touch with her 97-year-old mother at a care center.
“I’m enjoying my time at home,” Popelka said. “I know a lot of people are not.” She said a child who had been away at college has moved back home for now.
In her La Vista neighborhood, Popelka witnessed some neighborliness, which she shared on a Nextdoor site:
“Today while walking our dog, we ran across a woman who had brought down a rake and cleanup tools. She was busily cleaning up the park on 91st and Robin Drive (by the building shared by Metropolitan Community College and the La Vista Public Library). We stopped to talk. She told us she had extra time so she was putting it to good use. She told me she talked to the city and they are down to three people. She said what a good job they had done emptying the trash containers on Monday, as she had filled them with trash from an earlier cleanup!!! I thanked her.
“What a wonderful thing to do with the spare time we are all seeming to have. Imagine what our world would be like if we all took the time to just do even one thing for the neighbors in our community!!!”
Popelka, who said her mother loves reading, was planning to bring her her favorite magazine. “She’s not good on the phone,” the daughter said, but staff can help get her to a window, where they can touch on opposite sides of the glass.
In more ordinary times, Popelka would bring her guitar on a visit and sing. Her mother, Dolores Bilek, also a musician, would join in and harmonize.
Claire Fink says she was finally feeling confident and finding the right people at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
Now the college freshman is facing the possibility that she might not be able to return to campus anytime soon.
Fink, a member of St. Philip Neri Parish in Omaha, was back home on spring break when coronavirus restrictions were put in place. Then she and other students, many hundreds of miles away from Benedictine, learned they might not be able to return even by the end of the semester. Instead they’ll be learning online.
As the developments unfolded, Addey Connealy, another Benedictine freshman and an art major, was figuring out how she could complete some of her art courses – a ceramics class in particular, if she didn’t have access to a ceramics studio.
But both Fink and Connealy, a member of St. Mary Parish in Bellevue, were finding ways to cope and seeing hidden blessings in the turn of events.
“I’m home now, and that’s kind of nice,” said Fink, who now has extra time with family and was able to be with her sister for her St. Patrick’s Day birthday.
The virus outbreak, which weeks ago seemed like a small thing, “is now a huge thing,” bringing life to a standstill for many, she said. But the situation “is bringing people together. It’s a time for us to pray for each other and to look out for those who are a lot more at risk.”
Connealy said her teachers and others “are doing what’s best” in the unusual circumstances. She also said she is enjoying time with family members, who’ve prayed the rosary for all those affected by the pandemic.
Being able to laugh is also important, Connealy said. When picking up supplies, an older sister grabbed the board game “Pandemic” and a six-pack of Corona beer.
“You’ve got to deal with it with a little humor,” Connealy said.
Both students have been keeping in contact with Benedictine friends through social media.
“I’m trusting everything will get back to normal,” Fink said. “God has it under control. At this point, there’s not a lot we can do, so I’m putting it all in God’s hands.”
LIKE AN OLD MOVIE
Fay Sampson saw something nostalgic.
Sampson, an administrative assistant for the archdiocese’s Victim Outreach and Prevention Office, wrote about it on Facebook:
“Last night on my way home, I took a ‘neighborhood’ route,” she said. “I saw the most amazing things! People out walking in a park, children running and playing in the outdoors (all at the prescribed distances). The most amazing thing of all, people out on their front porches talking! At first I thought I was in an old movie! Then it hit me: Is this God’s way of telling us to tear down the privacy fences and start caring about each other and just plain get along? Food for thought!”
Beverly Oswald had been intently praying.
Just as she finished, the phone rang. It was a job offer. Oswald saw the opportunity as a sign from God and accepted the job in administrative support for Arbor Family Counseling in Omaha.
“I know that many people will be coming for help,” Oswald, a St. Columbkille parishioner, said in a Facebook message, “and sometimes it could be their last hope.” Before she started her new job, and as coronavirus restrictions began, the office manager called. She wanted to know if Oswald would need any special arrangements for the nephew she was caring for, who would be out of school.
“Wow,” Oswald wrote. Not many companies care for their employees like that, she said, especially when she hadn’t even started the job. The office manager “told me if I do need anything just to let her know and she would see what she could do to get it arranged!”
“Blessed,” Oswald said, “and I have not even started yet.
“Just a little God moment! He is so good!”
If you have an example of grace to share regarding the coronavirus outbreak, please email email@example.com.