Parishes across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains have welcomed the opportunity to reopen their churches to the faithful.
From Friday 15 May 2020, the NSW government lifted some of the restrictions that were put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, which included the closure of places of worship. The NSW government now allows religious gatherings and places of worship to have up to 10 worshippers.
“The opening of the churches, even with limited attendance, means that the faithful have an opportunity again to be in the real presence of Our Lord,” Granville Catholic Community parish priest Fr Andrew Bass told Catholic Outlook.
“Thanks be to God that we can now open our churches, even though it may be for only a few of us at a time.”
The return to public Masses has been “great” and emotional for parishioners, according to Fr Fernando Montano, parish priest of St Bernadette’s Parish, Castle Hill.
“It has been going great and it has been very emotional for many parishioners to be allowed back inside the Church.”
Parishes across the Diocese of Parramatta started celebrating public Masses with members of their congregation over the weekend, while others waited for the beginning of the week to commence.
Churches have opened their doors for private prayer, for Reconciliation and for the celebration of the sacraments including baptisms, weddings and funerals, asking parishioners to adhere to social distancing measures.
Due to the closure of church buildings in late March, parishes took the initiative to broadcast privately celebrated Masses online via Facebook and YouTube, maintaining their connection to their communities.
Fr Andrew said “throughout this time we have found ways to draw people together and for people to participate in the life of the parish, even from a distance.
“We are fortunate to have a very well developed social media [presence], so we already had a network in place that allowed people to connect. But we found ways to build on this.”
Fr Andrew explained to Catholic Outlook that Granville Catholic Community, which incorporates both Holy Trinity, Granville and Holy Family, East Granville, started several programs to keep the community strong and united in their faith.
During Holy Week, the Trinitarians Youth Ministry, led by youth coordinator Rosette Chidiac, arranged ‘Holy Week by Zoom’, where they held daily gatherings on video conferencing software Zoom to pray the Stations of the Cross or the Rosary or have discussions leading up to Easter Sunday.
The parish also recently launched ‘WhatsApp Parish Prayers’, where people could share their prayers and intentions, either for themselves or for others, and ask others to pray with them and for them.
As restrictions continue to ease, and the ability to celebrate with the whole congregation etches closer, Fr Andrew remained hopeful that despite the difficulties faced, the pandemic has allowed for a reflection on what is important.
“We have made arrangements so that as many people as possible will have the chance to attend Mass and pray before Our Lord, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. But as we are still bound by limited numbers, we need to keep on going and building up ways that we can all be connected.
“This time has been one where we have been given a chance to think about what matters most to us. It has been a moment where we choose for ourselves to persevere in faith and hope.
“It has been a chance for us to think about what we value—our family, our friends, our parish, and above all, our faith in Our Lord and in His Holy Mother, who stay with us, no matter what,” Fr Andrew said.
Parishes across Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains are opening their doors for private prayer, Reconciliation and for the celebration of Mass and sacraments such as baptisms, weddings and funerals. Please contact your local parish to check the arrangements put in place.
Livestreamed Masses from across the Diocese of Parramatta are still available on the Diocesan website https://www.parracatholic.org/covid19/#online.