By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – As Canada exceeds 11,000 COVID deaths and 300,000 cases — with medical professionals calling for “circuit breaker” shut-downs and Canada’s largest archdiocese implementing even tighter restrictions on “red zone” churches — the Church has to respond with unflinching concern for the common good, said Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Archbishop Richard Gagnon.
“No one says this is easy, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s fatiguing for sure,” said Gagnon, the archbishop of Winnipeg and president of the CCCB.
Already a week into a full shutdown that has shuttered churches in Manitoba, Gagnon emphasized that Catholics have to put the interests of others ahead of self-interest.
“It’s a practice of faith, charity and justice — prudence. It’s a practice of concern for others. It has to do with a mutual health issue. That’s important,” he said. “From our Christian perspective, that’s a matter of charity, love of neighbour and even social justice. We always keep our eye on the bigger picture.”
In the Archdiocese of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins has announced that as of Nov. 24, churches in the “red zone” of Toronto, Peel and York regions will be limited to 50 worhippers at any liturgical celebration, excluding those involved in ministry. Ontario’s “red zone” designation is just one step from a total lockdown.
“While we know that our 30-per-cent capacity restrictions as well as our extensive health and safety protocols have been extremely effective, we must also seriously consider the direction of local medical officers asking that places of worship further restrict attendance at liturgical services,” Collins said in a Nov. 17 release.
While the situation is “extremely challenging,” Collins said “we must also be mindful of our primary concern — our love of neighbour and our collective need to reduce the potential transmission of COVID-19.”
Bishop Ron Fabbro, president of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, said the pandemic should draw Catholics out of themselves.
“The pandemic has just heightened the reality that we have in our province of being very isolated. People are even more isolated now,” said the London, ON, bishop. “We can be examples of service to our brothers and sisters. How important that is.”
From meeting space for AA groups to community kitchens serving take-away meals and parishes organizing to support local women’s shelters, Catholics are responding to the COVID-19 crisis in a wide variety of ways, said Fabbro.
“Our retreat centre, which isn’t taking retreatants at this time, has made its rooms available to our refugee office — for refugees who are coming into the country and need a place to stay (through the 14-day quarantine),” said Fabbro.
It’s hard to look at the big picture of the pandemic and imagine Catholics fighting for their self-interest, Fabbro said.
“My hope is that during this pandemic we become much more sensitive to the people around us,” he said. “We need to be there for one another. Maybe we’ve learned that we’re not as independent as we thought we were. But we need to really be there for our brothers and sisters, as Pope Francis says, and walk with them.”
That outward focus can’t stop at Canada’s borders, said Development and Peace parish representative Michael Leblanc in a video message to promote the organization’s Nov. 15 Recovering Together collection.
“The virus has taught us how interconnected the human family is. It has taught us that we cannot recover alone,” said Leblanc, who heads up Development and Peace efforts at Holy Family Cathedral in Saskatoon.
Video message from Michael Leblanc, Development and Peace representative, Cathedral of the Holy Family, Saskatoon:
In Winnipeg, Gagnon is not questioning the need for circuit breaker shut-downs.
“Everybody, including the medical profession is learning in this whole process. This is the first time we’ve been through this. I think people recognize that. Nobody likes this situation, but we’re doing the best that we can.”
“If we’ve learned some lessons from this pandemic, it’s about caring for one another. I think that’s a real message of hope for all of us,” Fabbro said.