From: the Most Reverend John M. Quinn
Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona-Rochester
In these last couple months, our lives have been dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a time of great suffering, not only from the coronavirus, but also because of mental health struggles, economic hardships, and job loss. Many people are negatively impacted by the loneliness of long days at home alone, relationships that become strained from being with family 24/7, and not being able to visit loved ones in nursing homes or hospitals.
For Catholics, one of the greatest challenges has been the inability to gather together for Mass. The Eucharist is the Source and Summit of our faith, where the Lord gives us His very self, and sustains us with His grace. However, in order to protect the health of our community, and following guidance from government and public health officials, since March 20 there have been no public Masses in the Diocese of Winona-Rochester. I realize that living without the Mass has been a great hardship for our people. However, I am grateful that despite their hunger for the Eucharist, local Catholics have also been understanding and accepting of the restrictions and protocols in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. I know we all yearn for the day when we can once again worship together, without strict limitations on attendance, and I am working with our diocesan COVID-19 Task Force to figure out a date and protocols for this to safely happen in cooperation with public officials and health care experts.
Even amidst the current struggles, however, there continue to be rays of hope. The Easter season, which Catholics celebrate for 50 days, recalls the joyous event of Jesus Christ rising from the dead. The Resurrection is the ultimate story of hope, where life and light triumphed over death and despair. In our day, too, this hope continues to shine, as local Catholics live out their Eucharistic faith and bear witness to Christ’s selfless love in many ways.
Some examples of this are Catholic parishes, schools, and organizations reaching out to provide food by making and delivering meals, volunteering and collecting food for the food shelf, and working at the Bethany House during its evening meals. Students from Cotter Schools have been making masks; sending letters and cards to essential workers and health care providers; and music students have made recordings of themselves singing and playing their instruments, to lift the spirits of their elderly neighbors and those in nursing homes. The local Catholic United Financial Queen of Peace Council, in lieu of their normal dinner meeting which was instead held via Zoom, paid for and delivered a Subway meal for every staff member of Sauer Health Care, showing their appreciation for those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our parishes have also been working hard to stay connected with parishioners. Pastors and staff have been calling those in their parish and neighborhood communities, and providing spiritual resources to help people stay connected to their faith despite the inability to gather at church. Our priests have live-streamed Masses, kept their churches open for prayer, and continued to offer the Sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick while observing social distancing and other protocols. Weddings, funerals, and burials have also continued to be held, even with the current restrictions in place.
As we continue to weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am humbled and grateful for the ways in which our local Catholic community has come together to reach out and serve others at this time. Despite staying farther apart physically due to social distancing, we have been able to grow closer spiritually through the love of our neighbor. The Catholic Church will continue to strive to bring the light of Christ to our world during and after these days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Know of my prayers for you, and may we remember to always live out the words of St. Paul, “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer,” (Romans 12:12). Blessed are you!