Deep in winter, when the world turns cold, the days are short and night falls early, it’s our natural instinct to seek shelter and wait for the warm sunlight to return. This year especially, with humanity under siege from a microscopic pathogen surging around the globe, there’s good reason for each of us to stay home, put on a comfortable sweater and wait for better days. With new vaccines promising to bring the coronavirus under control over the next several months, can’t we just ride out the dark days till spring?
It’s a time of great hope, when Catholics can anticipate returning to Mass with fewer precautions, without masks, with handshakes and hugs and hymnals.
As any farmer will tell you, however, it’s the plans and preparations of wintertime that lead to a good harvest in the year ahead. And after a year of devastation, it takes a lot of work and ingenuity to return to “normal.”
Emerging from the winter of the coronavirus, we will face a blighted economy, with millions more unemployed than a year ago. Poverty, hunger and homelessness will be rampant. Secondary epidemics of domestic violence, addiction and depression will not yield to vaccination. Many will still be in crisis.
Meanwhile, amid the aftereffects of the pandemic, the social and political upheavals of 2020 have left our communities to come to terms with deep divisions and a legacy of injustice, anger and distrust between neighbors.
At this moment of cautious hope, Archways asked key actors from around the archdiocese to reflect on what we all experienced in 2020 and share their thoughts and plans for their ministries in 2021 and beyond. In the following pages, we will let the voices of dedicated pastors, sisters and ministry leaders give us some perspective on what we’ve been through and a look at where we may be going.
A Time to Rebuild: The Cardinal’s-Eye View
For the view from 10,000 feet – and yet typically down to earth – we begin our survey with the voice of Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan.
Archways: What have you learned from Covid-19?
Cardinal Dolan: One thing I learned during this pandemic is that we should never again take for granted simply being able to interact with others. There was a tremendous sense of loneliness and isolation, especially in the early days, when we could not have public celebrations of Mass and the sacraments. Schools moved to remote learning. Restaurants, businesses, and theaters were all closed. Sporting events played without fans. I have barely been able to see my mom over these past nearly nine months, and when I have, it’s been at a distance. I’m unable to even give her a hug! We are a people who need community! We can’t take personal contact for granted!
Archways: How do you think New York’s Catholics have done – the leaders, the clergy, the faithful – in response to Covid-19?
Cardinal Dolan: I have been overwhelmed by the goodness of our people throughout this pandemic, beginning with our priests who found new and creative ways to continue to minister to their people. Something as simple as livestreaming their parish Mass enabled parishioners to continue to pray as part of a community – a virtual community, perhaps, but one where they knew the priest and felt at home. Pastors recruited volunteers from the parish to call and keep in contact with neighbors, particularly the elderly and homebound who might not otherwise have someone to check on them.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding work done by our Catholic Charities, Catholic schools, and ArchCare, our health-care ministry, who each responded heroically in creatively adapting to meet the new challenges posed by Covid-19.
Archways: When the crisis is finally over, do you foresee any change in direction for the archdiocese? Any new initiatives? What will your focus be when “normal life” resumes?
Cardinal Dolan: Our first post-pandemic initiative will be the one Jesus left us: to go and make disciples of all people. It’s what we call “evangelization.” I’ve heard from many people that this period of “doing without” has led them to realize how much they cherish the Mass, value the sacraments, long to again be part of a community of faith. So, I hope that we will be able to approach evangelization with a new vigor, and that people will be more receptive to our invitation to “come and see.” Many of our priests are worried, “Will our people come back?”
Archways: The pandemic has dominated our consciousness during 2020, but there were other upheavals. How will the Church respond to the new movement for racial justice? Is there a role for the Church in healing the intense, angry divisions that are poisoning our culture?
Cardinal Dolan: The Church has long been at the forefront on the fight for racial justice. During this period of seemingly endless rancor, the Church can remind people of the need to treat each other with the respect and dignity that we all deserve as children of God, and that we can have legitimate disagreements without attacking each other’s motives. Far too often, we are quick to assume the worst about another person. That’s a dangerous mindset. The Church can help by being a mediating agency that helps to bring people together and find common ground.
Archways: What will you do to celebrate when the pandemic all-clear sounds?
Cardinal Dolan: First, I hope to be able to visit with my mom, and my brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews, and grandnieces and -nephews. That’s the most important thing. Then, maybe a nice meal out with some good friends that I haven’t been able to spend time with. Finally, perhaps, I will delete my Zoom account!