Throughout the COVID-19 health pandemic, there have been many examples of our communities responding to the exceptional circumstances to help those in need. Here, Sacred Heart Church, Omagh, shares its story in a piece by Dympna Kelly, Chair of Drumragh Pastoral Council.

Pastoral Care ‘from a Distance’

Providing best pastoral care within the limitations imposed by health and government guidelines has been the greatest challenge. This becomes particularly evident when someone dies. We experienced this as a family at the end of March when my mother-in-law died. Her funeral took place in the Sacred Heart Church and there were just ten of us in attendance. The family circle is small but the announcement two days earlier by the Irish government, introducing the two-kilometre limitation on travel, meant that sons-in-law and grandchildren from Dublin were unable to attend. Even the immediate family support which would ordinarily have been there was absent. Neighbours and close friends lined the road near the house and the cemetery, but the numbers were small.

Journeying with the Young

The pastoral care of schools has had to be adapted to reflect the current circumstances. The usual parish programme of First Eucharist and Confirmation is on hold and we have had to find other ways of reaching the children and their parents. On the 10th of May, one of the Sunday Masses was especially for this year’s First Communicants and their families. The children prepared for this by sending in a drawing representing the sacrament and this created a very colourful addition to our Facebook page. A teacher from each of the four parish schools took part in the liturgy and represented the children who could not be in attendance. For those who should have received the Sacrament of Confirmation at the end of March, we similarly invited them to join our livestreamed Mass on Pentecost. In preparation for that great feast, we, as a parish prayed a novena asking that the gifts of the Holy Spirit would fill all of us especially the Confirmation children. The priests have celebrated end of year and leavers’ Masses for schools via the parish webcam, often with a small number of representatives from the schools present.

The Derry Diocesan Youth Team has been holding regular meetings with the Pope John Paul II Award students and suggesting ways in which they can remain involved and even increase their parish participation. We also invited the students to assist with the rosary in the Church each evening. One of the students, accompanied by a parent, responded to the prayers of the rosary which was led by one the priests. Often the student or parent also proclaimed the reading and psalm at the Mass which followed. For many of the students and their parents, this was their only opportunity during the lockdown to physically be present at Mass and it was wonderful to experience their enthusiasm.

New Ways of Reaching Out

The normal monthly routine of visiting the sick and housebound has also had to change as they have been highlighted as vulnerable individuals. Telephone calls have had to replace the knock on the door and this is appreciated by those older parishioners and their families. Even Cemetery Sunday will need to take a virtual slant this year when the priests will bless the graves and parishioners will join remotely from their homes.

Parishioners were encouraged to become involved in the Lough Derg Virtual Pilgrimage on 1st May broadcast from St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry City. Through the night, one of our parish families remained in the Sacred Heart Church for the pilgrimage and represented all those in our parish praying at home. For the pilgrimage at the end of May, Drumragh parish again joined the pilgrimage, this time as one of the parishes leading a station.

Offering Welcome and Looking Forward

The Order of Malta made many of their volunteers available to us as Churches re-opened in early July. Their presence, alongside many other ushering volunteers, provides reassurance to Church goers and provides ample opportunities for a socially distanced chat. In our busy lives, it is seldom that we take the time to reassess, to look at what we are doing and why we are doing it. The past couple of months, filled as they have been with challenges, have also presented space to consider our way of being Church. When we eventually emerge, may we hold onto those things we have learned to appreciate once more, both individually and as a parish.

Sacred Heart