The Friars Respond to the Covid-19 Crisis

from Summer 2020 Edition

Most of our Franciscan ministries have taken advantage of modern technology to live-stream Masses, including the
daily services broadcasted from the Shrine of St. Anthony in Ellicott City, Maryland.

During this age of the Corona virus pandemic, the Friars of the Our Lady of the Angels Province have been doing their part to comfort, inspire, motivate and serve the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of their communities.

With live stream Masses, driveby food distribution, mobile adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and more, the Friars have found creative ways to serve in these unprecedented times.

Although the circumstances are unique, the reaction of the Friars is one they have repeated many times throughout the ages. Through world wars and economic depressions; through natural disasters and times of drought or famine, the Friars have always answered the call.

Following in the footsteps of St. Francis, (from left) Fr. Richard-Jacob Forcier, Fr. James McCurry and Fr. Michael Heine, set a good example by wearing facemasks to prevent the spread of infections.

“Although ‘socially distanced,’ our Friars are ‘spiritually united’ with the people we serve – be they parishioners in our churches, students in our schools, the needy in our streets, the companions on our mailing lists, and the viewers of our video programs.” said Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv., the Minister Provincial of the Our Lady of the Angels Province. “Our mission as Franciscans is to put into action the words spoken by Jesus Christ to Francis of Assisi: ‘Repair my House.’ God’s ‘House’ is our broken and afflicted world. We Friars are using every possible means during the coronavirus troubles to connect with people, foster healing, assure their sustenance, allay fears, and upbuild unity in the human family.”

According to Fr. James, this approach is exactly as it was during the time of St. Francis.

“Eight-hundred years ago, St. Francis initiated an outreach to those afflicted by the pandemic of leprosy. Since that time, his followers – the Franciscan Friars – have never ceased doing outreach to people in times of crisis – earthquakes, floods, wars, terror, exile, economic upheaval, plague, or famine. Just as our Friars in the USA and Canada have accompanied stricken society during the crises of the past century, so now we cannot ignore the cry of the poor and the plea of the afflicted.”

Here are just a few of the initiatives the Friars have undertaken, over the last few months, in response to the needs created by the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Drive-thru Palms
In Winston Salem, North Carolina, Friars at Our Lady of Mercy Parish, conducted drive-thru distributions of palms on Palm Sunday.

A parishioner at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Winston Salem, NC, receives a palm on Palm Sunday as she drove her car thru a pick up area organized by the Friars. More than 500 palms were distributed.

Friars Carl Zdancewicz and Joe Angelini greeted parishioners as they drove their cars onto church grounds and received their blessed palms. More than 500 cars were served.

The same Friars have taken the lead on videotaping the parish Masses and posting them online for viewing. They even live-streamed the Holy Week services in both English and Spanish.

The experience has provided a crash course in technology education, as the parish computers have been upgraded, with a new telephone system planned next.

Food Distribution
The Blessed Sacrament Parish Food Pantry, also known as “The Little Portion Pantry,” in Burlington, North Carolina, recently hosted a drive-thru food distribution to support those left unemployed by the Covid-19 Pandemic.

A massive turnout caused a traffic tie-up, but the Friars managed to serve all 526 families in the parish, totaling more than 2,300 people. Each family received five meals. This followed a previous distribution, in March, in which 329 families were served, many of which were visiting a food pantry for the first time.

More than 9,500 pounds of produce were purchased through Aldi and nearly 3,000 pounds of canned goods were purchased through the SHFB Food Purchase plan. In addition, a large quantity of food was secured from the Catholic Charities pantry in Durham, NC.

The Elms College caRe vaN has continued to serve the homeless and poor during the Covid-19 pandemic.

caRe vaN remains in action
In Chicopee, Massachusetts the caRe vaN unit, the brainchild of Br. Michael Duffy, OFM Conv., of the Our Lady of the Angels Province, and operated by Elms College, has continued to provide free health care to the homeless during this time of crisis. Services include blood pressure checks, blood sugar checks, foot care, first aide and minor-wound care. For now, services have had to be adjusted, and are provided on the parking lot outside of the van, so that all can safely practice social distancing. Screenings, vitamins (C and zinc), acetaminophen, as well as the simple comforts of coffee and a snack are still being provided for the most vulnerable.

Br. Michael also serves as Associate Dean and Director of the Undergradute Program of the School of Nursing at Elms College.

Adaptability in Jersey
The Friars of St. Junipero Serra Parish in Seaside Heights, NJ have proven most adaptable during this time of crisis. In addition to live-streaming Masses (in two languages) and other special celebrations, such as the entire Paschal Triduum during Holy Week, they have also utilized technology to continue Faith Formation for Children by using Google Classrooms to keep up with classroom work and sacramental preparation. In addition, the parish Friars have responded to the continuing opioid epidemic in the area, as well as increased levels of substance abuse and alcohol dependency by continuing their 12-step recovery program via the Zoom Meeting platform.

Friars and dedicated volunteers unloaded “drive-by” food donations to restock the shelves of local pantries at St. Junipero Serra Parish, Seaside Heights, NJ.

Of course some issues cannot be solved through technology alone, including the growing problem of food insecurity in the area. To meet the increased needs of both Simon’s Soup Kitchen and the St. Francis Food Pantry, the Friars and some devoted volunteers have worked tirelessly to operate a “drive-by” food collection program, collecting bags and bags of groceries from the cars of generous parishioners, who responded to the call to help restock the once bare shelves of the pantries. †


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