This article was written for and sponsored by JP2 Catholic Radio (jp2radio.com).
Life has been hard for pastors and their community during this unprecedented pandemic, but Fr. Edward Horning has found sources of hope in the ways Imperial Valley Catholics continue to practice their faith.
This year has been particularly difficult for the elderly. Lockdown measures have in many ways isolated them from the sacraments and the rest of their parishioners.
“The elderly and the sick haven’t been ministered to like they should and like I would want to,” said Fr. Horning, JP2 Radio co-founder and pastor of Brawley Catholic, which encompasses Sacred Heart and St. Margaret Mary Parishes in Brawley and St. Joseph Parish in Westmoreland, California.
Priests and other members of the Catholic community are often prohibited from visiting the elderly, and they’re not allowed to receive the Eucharist. Also, most of them don’t have social media.
“They’re a huge portion of the population not receiving any outreach from the Church,” Fr. Horning said. About 30 percent of his parish are elderly.
The pandemic has impacted the rest of the parish community as well, forcing Catholics to find creative ways to share and sustain their faith in these challenging times. In-person faith formation programs were put on pause from March until August. As a result, many RCIA and support groups are taking place online now.
For more information on how to join these online faith formation meetings, including Masses, visit brawleycatholic.org/faith-formation-1, Brawley Catholic’s Facebook page (facebook.com/BrawleyCatholic), or Fr. Horning’s Facebook page.
While Masses are now permitted, bishops--in collaboration with doctors and scientists--have come up with liturgical guidelines during the pandemic. According to these guidelines, no one is allowed to receive the Eucharist by mouth, masks are required during Mass, and people have to stand six feet apart.
Immediately noticing the effects of the lockdown, Fr. Horning took his ministry to social media.
“I doubled and tripled my online presence from day one of quarantine,” Fr. Horning said.
He went from 2,500 to 10,000 friends on Facebook. He also started celebrating two Masses every day online, and launched an online Bible study.
“I kind of expanded the service I was doing. It wasn’t necessarily in person, but folks were able to take part in our Masses and Bible study.”
Since May, Brawley Catholic has been the only parish in the region that provides in-person reconciliation.
“We’re really busy with confessions,” Fr. Horning said. “We hear five to seven hours of confession a week.” When the pandemic started, for a few months confession was only available by appointment. Now, the schedule changes every week, but they offer confession as much as they can.
Funerals for many months have been only outside at the grave site. Masses and weddings are also held outside in backyards, gardens, and parks.
Despite all these changes, Fr. Horning said things are starting to get back to normal. Confirmations are taking place, though masks are still required.
When the lockdown measure began, JP2 Catholic Radio modified its outreach as well. The station has been broadcasting a local Rosary and Mass every day. “Folks like to pray with other folks locally, live,” Fr. Horning said.
Despite all of the negative impact the pandemic has had, there have also been some positive things that have come out of it in people’s spiritual lives.
“More people who were not going to Mass are watching the Mass, and they let us know they have benefited,” Fr. Horning mentioned. “Folks are tuning in who perhaps wouldn’t have before, and people are participating in the online Bible study.”
He added that people are making Zoom appointments for marriage counseling and different questions they have about the Faith.
“Some folks are expressing a desire to live their faith more intently and wanting to come to Mass on the other side of this pandemic,” Fr. Horning said.
However, not many people are coming to Mass now, and many are concerned that when the pandemic is over a number of people won’t be coming back. “We have our work cut out for us either way,” Fr. Horning said.
The pandemic may get worse as the weather gets colder, but Fr. Horning said he is confident that scientists and doctors will produce a safe, licit, and effective vaccine soon.
JP2 Catholic Radio has helped tremendously in sustaining people’s hope during these hard times. Please consider donating to the radio station’s mission. Those wishing to support the mission of JP2 Catholic Radio can do so at jp2radio.com or by mailing a check to JP2 Catholic Radio, P.O. Box 2507, El Centro, CA 92244.