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Catholic nurses often only spiritual connection to hospitalized patients

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Tom Tracy

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNS) -- A tightening of some hospital visitor restrictions on religious ministers and patient family members has begun as the coronavirus pandemic ramps up around the U.S.

"It has been about two weeks -- it started out with a limit on the times ministers or family members could come in, then a week later they completely stopped it," said Maria Arvonio, a night-shift nursing supervisor for a large community hospital near Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and the lower Northeastern regional director of the Chicago-based National Association of Catholic Nurses.

Catholic nurses, Arvonio noted, are now often the only spiritual connection for those in their care.

"The patients can make phone calls, but eucharistic ministers, volunteers and family are not allowed to visit at this time, so Catholic nurses are the only Catholic lifeline to their spirituality," Arvonio said, adding that historically the church has encouraged strong collegial associations of Catholic nurses.

The Joint Commission, an organization that accredits and certifies over 22,000 health care organizations in the U.S., likewise acknowledges that offering spiritual care to patients is vital toward supporting their health.

"In my opinion, we are the hands and feet of Christ ministering God's love and healing to our patients, especially now more than ever since patients are unable to receive the Eucharist and spiritual care" offered by extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, Arvonio said, adding the patient disconnect with family members can lead to anxiety and fear of the virus.

Arvonio has participated in United Nations congresses under the auspices of the International Catholic Committee of Nurses and Medico-Social Assistants, which serves as a nongovernmental organization with consultative status.

It is well-accepted that a patient's faith and spiritual beliefs can affect their healing process and that is why it is imperative that nurses are culturally competent -- to be aware of patients' belief systems in order to support their healing process, according to Arvonio.

"It is even more so now that we pray with and for our patients," she told Catholic News Service.

"Right now patients don't have their family members present -- at my facility that stopped two weeks prior to the official government order," she said. "Instead, hospitals are suggesting using cellphones and Facetime platforms with family."

But how many elderly people can really do that well with electronic communications?

Arvonio said it is during hospital night hours especially, when lonely and often elderly patients feel vulnerable and want someone to talk to, that they open up to the nursing staff.

"At night when I am (working), that nurse at the bedside is really important because the patient has time to think about what they have done over their lifetime. We have to be ready for that," Arvonio said.

"You should see the eyes of some patients, they are lonely and there is such fear. They don't have their family there, and they are worried for their family and the family are worried for them."

Arvonio said medical professionals are concerned if they are potentially exposing themselves and their families to the often-deadly coronavirus. She said nurses must practice universal protection for every patient -- but that isn't always sufficient for some contagious diseases that are not confirmed until test results return.

"Not knowing what this (COVID-19) disease process is, every day hearing something different on the news from one extreme to the next -- honestly, without my faith I would not be able to walk in there," she said.

In the coming days, Arvonio hopes to conduct an online training and mutual support forum for other Catholic nurses who are association members and include one or two clergy, and hopes the association's regional directors will do the same thing in other parts of the country.

"When you are out there by yourself, you are a sitting duck, but when you are in the circle with the Blessed Mother and with your colleagues, you are safe; if we stay strong in the sacramentals and watch the Mass online, we can do this," she said.

"This is a time not to listen too much to the news but stand on the word of God, to give glory to him and encourage nurses to stay close to God," Arvonio added.

In Cleveland, psychiatric mental health nurse Clarice Marie DeJesus oversees a new chapter of the National Association of Catholic Nurses while working at a mental health lockdown facility in Cleveland's inner city.

Though the city's coronavirus spread there is far less than other big cities, DeJesus said the hospital checks patients' temperatures twice daily and has plans to cordon off whichever floor of the hospital is first found to have a COVID-19-positive patient, then designate that the coronavirus treatment area.

Staff also are being screened daily upon arrival.

"I have talked to the nurses I work with, and I have to say that for those of us who have nourished our spiritually, it is business as usual and we can stay focused," DeJesus said.

"I have found people are becoming full of charity and that this is bringing out the best of people. When you work in a hospital you are always on guard about things that can be transmitted but obviously we have upped the game (for coronavirus) but our mentality is the same," she told CNS.

On a personal level, DeJesus is in the process of becoming a lay Franciscan, and she said St. Francis offers a great example for enduring this pandemic. She is praying the family rosary with her elderly parents by telephone to protect their safety.

Her personal devotions include prayers to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. John Paul II and Blessed Hannah Chrzanowska, a 20th-century Polish nurse beatified in 2018.

"This is a great opportunity for evangelization, the type of evangelization that St. Francis spoke of when he said, 'When necessary, use words,'" DeJesus said. "People are looking for charity and will be more receptive now to works of charity love and service."

Some Catholic health care professionals just accept that they will be exposed to the coronavirus, according to Dr. Robert Tiballi, an infectious disease specialist, who is a member of the Catholic Medical Association. Based in Elgin, Illinois, near Chicago, he has closed his private office and moved from face-to-face visits to telemedicine.

"It's not a question of if, but when I will get infected -- I may have already been so, not sure because we can't get testing," Tiballi told CNS.

"It's very similar to a mid-1980s when I was working with AIDS patients in Manhattan and was exposed via a needlestick injury and we had no ability to test at that time. Our state of Illinois makes all testing go through public health which is an incredible bottleneck, and patients are upset they cannot get testing."

On a personal note, Tiballi said he prays the rosary daily for all his patients past and present and future and dedicates his day's work to the Lord.

"When I am not exhausted in the evening I try to pray for reparation, praying ... for my sins, for the sins of church leaders, for the unbelief of the world and for sins of the clergy against the young and vulnerable."

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Distraught, determined Little Sisters of the Poor cope with coronavirus

IMAGE: CNS photo/Don Blake, The Dialog

By Joseph P. Owens

WILMINGTON, Del. (CNS) -- Mother Margaret Regina Halloran was doing her best to fight back tears in the early morning of March 27, but she wasn't really winning the struggle.

The local superior of the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Newark, Delaware, run by the Little Sisters of the Poor had the most difficult time the day before when a longtime resident died after testing positive for the coronavirus. The 86-year-old man with Philadelphia roots was a popular resident who delighted many over the years by dancing a version of the "Mummers Strut" -- a Philadelphia New Year's Day parade tradition.

"It's been pretty tough," said Mother Margaret, gearing up for her day on just four hours sleep.

The Department of Health and Social Services late in the evening of March 26 announced the first long-term care facility coronavirus-related death in Delaware and the first outbreak of positive cases in such a facility in the state. The man who died had underlying medical conditions, according to the state and Mother Margaret.

In addition, six residents of the Newark nursing home tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Division of Public Health, which is actively working with the facility to ensure resident and staff safety.

Mother Margaret said the man's daughter was able to spend 20 minutes with him, and his grandchildren got to see him through a window.

"We are deeply saddened to hear of this individual's death," Dr. Kara Odom Walker, a practicing family physician, who is secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services Secretary, said in a statement released by her office.

"The population who lives in these facilities are at the greatest risk for COVID-19, based on their age and underlying health conditions," she said. "Unfortunately, this death and the confirmed cases at this facility underscore the need for all long-term care facilities in Delaware to follow strict screening protocols for anyone entering their facilities."

After the man's death, Mother Margaret said, state officials spent time with the Little Sisters reviewing best practices and how to protect residents and staff.

A March 22 article in The Dialog, Wilmington's diocesan newspaper, Mother Margaret had outlined steps the home was taking to ensure residents' health.

"It just happened so fast," she said March 27, adding that many residents at Jeanne Jugan suffer from poor health that can be typical for the elderly.

"Some that have it (the virus), they're hanging in there ' still strong," Mother Margaret said. "It's something nobody realized. People are OK for a couple of days, then they show symptoms again.

"Everybody thought they knew it, but it's an invisible enemy."

The death of the resident hit hard in the close-knit, nonprofit continuing care retirement community with about 40 residents.

The man who died had originally moved to the residence more than a dozen years ago with his wife, who preceded him in death several years ago.

"He really loved it here," Mother Margaret said.

The mother superior said the state has recommended additional staffing and the sisters are now asking for volunteers or donations.

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Owens is editor of The Dialog, newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington.


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COVID-19 is not God's judgment, but a call to live differently, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yara Nardi, pool via Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is not God's judgment on humanity, but God's call on people to judge what is most important to them and resolve to act accordingly from now on, Pope Francis said.

Addressing God, the pope said that "it is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others."

Pope Francis offered his meditation on the meaning of the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for humanity March 27 before raising a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament and giving an extraordinary blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

Popes usually give their blessing "urbi et orbi" only immediately after their election and on Christmas and Easter.

Pope Francis opened the service -- in a rain-drenched, empty St. Peter's Square -- praying that the "almighty and merciful God" would see how people are suffering and give them comfort. He asked to care for the sick and dying, for medical workers exhausted by caring for the sick and for political leaders who bear the burden of making decisions to protect their people.

The service included the reading of the Gospel of Mark's account of Jesus calming the stormy sea.

"Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives," the pope said. "Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them."

Like the disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, he said, "we will experience that, with him on board, there will be no shipwreck, because this is God's strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things."

The Gospel passage began, "When evening had come," and the pope said that with the pandemic and its sickness and death, and with the lockdowns and closures of schools and workplaces, it has felt like "for weeks now it has been evening."

"Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void that stops everything as it passes by," the pope said. "We feel it in the air, we notice it in people's gestures; their glances give them away.

"We find ourselves afraid and lost," he said. "Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm."

However, the pandemic storm has made most people realize that "we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented," the pope said. And it has shown how each person has a contribution to make, at least in comforting each other.

"On this boat are all of us," he said.

The pandemic, the pope said, has exposed "our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities."

In the midst of the storm, Pope Francis said, God is calling people to faith, which is not just believing God exists, but turning to him and trusting him.

As Lent and the pandemic go on, he said, God continues to call people to "convert" and "return to me with all your heart."

It is a time to decide to live differently, live better, love more and care for others, he said, and every community is filled with people who can be role models -- individuals, "who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives."

Pope Francis said the Holy Spirit can use the pandemic to "redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people -- often forgotten people -- who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines," but are serving others and making life possible during the pandemic.

The pope listed "doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves."

"How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility," he said. And "how many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer."

"How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all," he said. "Prayer and quiet service: These are our victorious weapons."

In the boat, when the disciples plead with Jesus to do something, Jesus responds, "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?"

"Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us," the pope said. "In this world that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything.

"Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things and be lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet," Pope Francis said.

"We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick," he said. "Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: 'Wake up, Lord!'"

The Lord is calling on people to "put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be foundering," the pope said.

"The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith," he said. "We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love."

Pope Francis told people watching around the world that he would "entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, health of the people, and star of the stormy sea."

"May God's blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace," he said. "Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak, and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm."

Introducing the formal blessing, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, announced that it would include a plenary indulgence "in the form established by the church" to everyone watching on television or internet or listening by radio.

An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven. Catholics following the pope's blessing could receive the indulgence if they had "a spirit detached from sin," promised to go to confession and receive the Eucharist as soon as possible and said a prayer for the pope's intentions.


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Update: Coronavirus means quiet times for maritime ministers in U.S., Canada

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Deacon Wayne Lobell

By Dennis Sadowski

CLEVELAND (CNS) -- Cargo ships from around the world may be docking at the port of Charleston, South Carolina, but for Deacon Paul Rosenblum, the days are pretty quiet.

As the lone port minister for the Diocese of Charleston's Apostleship of the Sea ministry, Deacon Rosenblum, 66, has opted for staying off the ships so he doesn't accidentally bring any illness -- the new coronavirus or otherwise -- to seafarers.

"I'm not going on ships unless they make a request for me to come onboard," he said. "That's an oddity right now. Most of the foreign crews are self-isolating. The American crews are not so diligent about things."

Deacon Rosenblum works with the Charleston Port and Seafarers' Society to serve the crews of oceangoing vessels. He works alongside an Episcopal priest and an administrator. The ministry involves talking with crew members, offering rides for shopping, staffing a seafarer center and simply being present.

Not personally meeting seafarers makes it difficult to minister to their personal and spiritual needs. But all involved know that it's for the better for the time being, he said.

Deacon Rosenblum understands the seafarers, almost exclusively young men, must keep themselves safe from illness. At sea, there's no access to care outside of basic first aid and it can be days between ports of call. An illness can spread quickly among the crew, who spend much of their time in tight quarters.

By law, a ship's captain must report any illness on board to the U.S. Coast Guard before docking. In shipping, time is money, and any illness can cause a delay in delivering millions of dollars of cargo.

The coronavirus has disrupted the routines of Catholic port ministers across the U.S. and Canada. Deacon Jose Deleon, 68, who works with the Archdiocese of Seattle's Catholic Seafarers Ministry, said he last visited a ship March 19. "We're pretty much down to zero," he said.

Deacon Wayne Lobell, who runs the Stella Maris Maritime Center West for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, has shut down his outreach efforts because of the exponential growth in reported COVID-19 cases in southern Louisiana.

"The detriment is we can be more of a problem to them than they are to us," Deacon Lobell, 69, told Catholic News Service March 25.

"For the past two weeks, I haven't had any calls at all. I don't know if the agents are telling them (seafarers) to stay on board. We don't want to deny them to come to shore, but it could be more of a problem if they got off. They they'd have to clean the entire ship. We've decided to stay away from that," Deacon Lobell said.

Deacon Dileep Athaide, 70, is coordinator of the archdiocesan Catholic chaplaincy service in the port of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada's largest. He said port officials had closed the seafarers center, a place where crew members could gather, arrange for rides for shopping, buy cellphone SIM cards or hang out. The center is the place where Deacon Athaide often interacted with seafarers. Not now.

"They're just being safe," Deacon Athaide said.

In normal times, the deacons would lead Communion services on ships when time allowed. They distributed rosaries and prayer cards, delivered specialty baked goods, and counsel the men who often are away from home for up to 10 months at a time.

Even before the onset of COVID-19, the need for such basic services has declined as port stops have been shortened through automation. Ships unload and reload in a matter of hours, leaving little time for crew members to take care of personal needs and less time for a minister to conduct even a 15-miniute prayer service, the deacons said.

Many of the crews primarily consist of Filipinos. Indians also are common, while some East Europeans are occasionally are on board. Hailing from a predominantly Catholic country, Filipinos most often appreciate the outreach, Deacon Deleon said.

"In some cases, they'd want to go to confession," said Deacon Deleon, himself a Filipino. "I'm trying to schedule a priest to come whenever I can to come with me. But that is very rare."

Deacon Rosenblum in Charleston has made friends with some crew members, keeping in touch via social media or email. Once in a while an old friend will return to port and both seek out each other. But mostly, he said he realizes he won't see the men he meets ever again.

"I tell people they minister to me as much as I minister to them," he said.

Beyond the ship crews, the deacons said they maintain good relationships with port staff, including the pilots who meet a ship and guide a captain through a harbor into a berth. Deacon Lobell in New Orleans said one river pilot, who is a devout Catholic, often acts as his eyes and ears on a ship and points out someone who is in special need. The pilot also has been authorized as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion by the archdiocese and will distribute the Eucharist -- when there's time.

For now, until the COVID-19 pandemic eases, the deacons will continue to show up at the ports, hoping to be of service to anyone they run into, be they seafarers, longshoremen or security officials.

"We'll see," Deacon Athaide said. "It's such a fluid situation. It's changing all the time."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski


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During pandemic, priests work to bridge distance between deceased, family

IMAGE: CNS photo/Flavio Lo Scalzo, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- When Father Mario Carminati went to bless the remains of one of his parishioners, he called the deceased man's daughter on WhatsApp so they could pray together.

"One of his daughters is in Turin and couldn't take part," he said, the Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana reported March 26. "It was very emotional," as she was able to pray with them through the messaging service, said the parish priest from Seriate, near Bergamo.

Capuchin Father Aquilino Apassiti, an 84-year-old hospital chaplain in Bergamo, said he sets his mobile phone near the deceased so the loved one on the other end can pray with him, the magazine said.

They are some of the many priests and religious trying to bridge the forced distance between those who have died from COVID-19 and the people they leave behind. The Diocese of Bergamo has set up a special service, "A Heart That Listens," where people can call or email for spiritual, emotional or psychological support from trained professionals.

With funerals forbidden nationwide, these ministers are also offering blessings and a dignified temporary place of rest before the departed's ultimate burial.

For example, Father Carminati made one of the churches in his area available for the remains of 45 people awaiting cremation. Because the one crematorium in Bergamo has long been unable to handle the number of dead each day, convoys of army trucks were being deployed to take the dead to the nearest crematoria more than 100 miles away.

With the pews pushed to the side walls of the church of St. Joseph, Father Carminati and an assistant went up and down the central nave, sprinkling holy water over coffins, according to a video report posted by the Italian daily, Il Giornale.

It was better the coffins be in the church awaiting transport than in a warehouse, because "at least we say a prayer, and here they are already in the house of the Father," Father Carminati said in the video report March 26.

After the coffins are taken away for cities further south, more coffins take their place each day.

The 45 bodies Father Carminati blessed were welcomed later in the day by church and city officials when they arrived for cremation in the province of Ferrara. Father Daniele Panzeri, Mayor Fabrizio Pagnoni and Maj. Giorgio Feola of the military police prayed for the dead upon their arrival, and two officers wearing medical masks held a flowering orchid, Bergamo News reported March 26.

After cremation, the ashes of the 45 dead and another 68 deceased were transported back again to Bergamo, where they were blessed by Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo during a solemn ceremony with the city's mayor, Giorgio Gori, and local police officers.

To help fill the void of no funeral services or public gatherings to mourn and pray, Bishop Beschi was inviting the entire province of Bergamo to join with him March 27 for a televised and online broadcast of a moment of prayer from the city cemetery to remember those who have died.

Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples also visited his city's main cemetery March 27 to bless and pray for the dead. It was the same day Pope Francis was holding a worldwide moment of prayer in the evening from an empty St. Peter's Square.

Official figures from the national civil protection agency have said more than 8,000 people have died in Italy from COVID-19 as of March 26, with spikes in mid-March between 620 and 790 deaths a day.

However, city officials in the northern Lombardy region have said the number of COVID-19-related deaths could be as much as four times higher, because official figures only count those who have been tested for the coronavirus.

City officials, who have been registering all deaths, not just those attributed to COVID-19, have flagged the high anomalous numbers of people who are dying at home or in nursing homes from pneumonia, respiratory failure or cardiac arrest and are not tested.

For example, Francesco Bramani, the mayor of the small town of Dalmine, told the newspaper L'Eco di Bergamo March 22 that the town had registered 70 deaths, and only two were officially linked to coronavirus. They had only 18 deaths during the same period last year, he said.

While hospital personnel struggle with those in their care, morticians and funeral service workers have been dealing with the massive and underreported number of dead.

Alessandro Bosi, secretary of the Italian federation of funeral service agencies, told Adnkronos news agency March 24 that those working in the sector in the north have not been able to get the personal protection and disinfectants needed when they transport the deceased.

One of the reasons there has been a problem with transporting the deceased in certain areas of the north is not just because of the spike in deaths, but also because many workers and businesses have been put under quarantine.

"So instead of there being 10 businesses operating, there are only three, and this makes the work harder" and is why the army and others had to be called in to help, he said.

"While it is true we are in second place (in the field of health care) what if we, who carry the dead, all get sick?"

When asked in an interview with about how families are handling the difficult situation of not being allowed to have a funeral for their loved one, Bosi said people have been enormously responsible and collaborative.

"Families, who have been denied a funeral service, understand the orders are the right thing and that (services) have been postponed in order to avoid situations that could worsen the contagion," he said the March 20 interview.

"Many people have made arrangements with funeral services and priests to symbolically celebrate the deceased when this time of emergency is over."


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Vatican releases pope's pandemic-influenced plan for Holy Week, Easter

IMAGE: CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With public gatherings, including Masses, banned in Italy to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Vatican published an updated version of Pope Francis' schedule for Holy Week and Easter.

In a March 27 statement, the Vatican said that all Holy Week celebrations will be celebrated at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter's Basilica "without the participation of the people."

The Vatican also said the release of the updated schedule takes into account the provisions made by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the congregation, said in a decree dated March 20 that because the chrism Mass is not formally part of the Triduum, a bishop can decide to postpone its celebration.

For the first time, the pope's schedule for Holy Week does not include the chrism Mass, which is usually celebrated the morning of Holy Thursday. During the liturgy, priests renew their promises and the oils used for the sacraments are blessed.

This year also will be the first time Pope Francis will celebrate the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper in the Vatican instead of at a prison, hospital or other institution. The Congregation for Divine Worship said that "the washing of feet, which is already optional, is to be omitted" when there are no faithful present.

The congregation also said that bishops should advise the faithful of the times for the celebrations, so that they can pray at home at the same time.

Here is the updated schedule of papal liturgical ceremonies for Holy Week and Easter released by the Vatican (times listed are local):

-- April 5, Palm Sunday, 11 a.m.

-- April 9, Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord's Supper 6 p.m.

-- April 10, Good Friday, 6 p.m. liturgy of the Lord's passion.

-- April 10, Way of the Cross, 9 p.m., in front of St. Peter's Basilica.

-- April 11, Easter vigil Mass, 9 p.m.

-- April 12, Easter morning Mass, 11 a.m. followed by the pope's blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Pope thanks those who help, pray for vulnerable during pandemic

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to the many men and women who have been inspired to help the poor and accompany the sick and the elderly during the coronavirus pandemic.

"These days, news has arrived of how many people are beginning to have a general concern for others -- caring about the families who do not have enough to get by, the elderly who are alone, the sick in the hospitals -- and who pray and try to give them some help," the pope said March 27 at the beginning of his livestreamed morning Mass.

"This is a good sign," he said. "Let us thank the Lord for stirring up these feelings in the hearts of his faithful."

The papal almoner's office announced March 26 that the pope was donating 30 ventilators to "hospitals in the areas most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic."

The hospitals that will receive the new ventilators "will be identified in the coming days," the papal almoner's office said.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the day's first reading from the Book of Wisdom, which describes the criticism of the wicked toward the righteous person who "reproaches us for transgressions of the law."

"For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With revilement and torture, let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience," the reading stated.

The pope said the reading was a prophecy that accurately described those who taunted Jesus on the cross, demanding he prove that he was the son of God. The ones who mocked Christ were not motivated by "simple hatred" but a "relentless fury," the pope said.

"Behind all fury, there is the devil who seeks to destroy God's work. Behind an argument or an enmity, it could be the devil (working) from afar with normal temptations," he said. "But when there is fury, there is no doubt: there is the presence of the devil."

This demonic fury, he continued, could be seen not only in those who acted against Jesus but also in the persecutions of Christians to "lead them to apostasy, to distance themselves from God."

The pope recalled a story from bishops in "one of the countries that suffered under the dictatorship of an atheist regime" and the lengths that the authorities would go to persecute Christians.

"On the Monday after Easter, the teachers were forced to ask the children: 'What did you eat yesterday?'" the pope recalled. "Some said, 'Eggs' and those who said 'eggs' were then persecuted to see if they were Christians because in that country they ate eggs on Easter Sunday. It got to this point: to see, to spy where there is a Christian in order to kill him. This is fury in persecution and this is the devil."

The only way Christians can respond to this fury is to follow the example set forth by Christ and to remain silent, the pope said.

"It is striking when we read in the Gospel that in front of all these accusations, all these things, Jesus was silent. In front of the spirit of fury, only silence, never justification. Never! Jesus spoke and he explained. When he understood that there were no words, silence," he said.

Pope Francis prayed that Christians would ask for the grace "to fight against the evil spirit, to argue when we have to argue. But before the spirit of fury, to have the courage to keep silent and let others speak."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Coronavirus may produce misery beyond disease to migrants, home countries

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lindsey Wasson, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Lack of jobs and economic disparity in Central America were already driving large numbers of migrants north before the coronavirus became a household word.

And now those who long have worked with migrants worry about the effects COVID-19 will cause on the already fragile economic systems of the migrants' home countries. They also worry about the environment the pandemic is creating for those migrants on the move and in new lands.  

Father Mauro Verzeletti, a Catholic priest who has for decades helped feed and shelter migrants in Central America, said he has received scant news about what migrants are currently facing after the government of Guatemala ordered a quarantine and he had to close the doors of the Casa del Migrante, one of the shelters he runs in Guatemala City. 

Father Verzeletti already was in a quarantine of sorts because the government forbid him from leaving the shelter after he received death threats in January for his work with migrants.

But he was able to see and hear stories from those who came through the shelter and had knowledge of what was going on before the quarantine was put in place.

"Now we're not receiving any news, we don't know how people are faring," he said in a March 26 telephone interview with Catholic News Service.

He's now sheltering in place with two migrant families and the superior of his order, the Scalabrinians, who was visiting when the national quarantine was put in place, shutting down flights.

But watching the news, he's learned of the scarcity of items in the stores. He worries about those who've lost their jobs, including those whose only means of making a living was by selling household items or produce on the streets in the "informal economy" that stocks the popular markets of Latin America. What will the economies and conditions of countries such as Guatemala look like after the coronavirus is over, he asked.

"Famine?" he said.

He also worries about those migrants who were making the journey when the crisis hit, about the conditions in detention they're facing in places such as the U.S., which he said already had a less than stellar record of treating detained migrants, including children and families, humanely.

Those worries are shared by groups in the U.S., including the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, Texas.
In its March 16, Frontera Dispatch, a newsletter about conditions along the border region of El Paso, the organization voiced worries about the potential for a breakout of the virus in migrant camps that have formed just over the border as a result of the U.S. policy popularly called "Remain in Mexico."

Formally known as the Migrant Protection Controls, or MPP, the policy asks those seeking asylum in the U.S. to wait in Mexico until a U.S. immigration court can adjudicate their case.

The organization worries about the medical conditions but also how a spread of the coronavirus in those communities can be used politically in an election year to further restrict asylum-seekers from seeking protection in the U.S.

"The prospect of the virus reaching migrant camps at the northern border is alarming," the organization said. "Camps like the one in Matamoros (across from El Paso) house thousands of people and have no proper sanitation or infrastructure and limited access to medical supplies.

"Migrants living there (many in the MPP program) are mostly at risk from American volunteers, but if it (the virus) showed up at the border, the Trump administration would seize the opportunity to throw the blame on migrants and further restrict their rights."

Groups such as the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd argue that if there's a time to help those seeking shelter, it's now.

"The world is gripped in fear and crisis. Many of these men, women and children have journeyed for weeks and months. They have left unspeakable violence. Now is most certainly not the time to force them to huddle in unsafe conditions in Mexico as the coronavirus sweeps across our globe," said Lawrence E. Couch, the center's director.

"Closer to the American spirit can be found in the recent announcement that because of coronavirus, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will stop its cruel rounding up of immigrants who pose no threat to the public," he added. "The Border Patrol should do the same and allow refugees to pass and find safety in the United States."


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Texas Catholic family's quarantine dancing video goes viral

IMAGE: CNS photo/ courtesy Texas Catholic Herald

By James Ramos

HOUSTON (CNS) -- When health officials recommended self-isolation to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Ali Hoffman and her parents, Michael and Michele, found themselves quarantined in their Fort Worth-area home.

In their boredom, they donned their "party pants" and filmed a short video of themselves dancing in the kitchen to "Hold My Hand" by Jess Glynne. There's no formal choreography. But lip syncing, slow motion, air drums, and piano and trumpet -- as well as floor slides a la Tom Cruise's "Risky Business" dance -- all abound. At one point, jazz hands beckon Ali's mother into the frame for her cameo.

Within 72 hours of Ali's March 21 Facebook post, the video went viral, racking up nearly 5 million views and more than 183,000 shares.

But this isn't the first time the Hoffman family went viral online.

Five years ago, a winter storm froze the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Icy roads kept Ali and her parents inside.

Perhaps in an effort to warm up in the frigid temperatures, an impromptu dance party broke out in the family's kitchen. The third youngest in the family of six, Ali recorded and posted a video of the one-take performance to her Facebook account. Since its February 2015 posting, the video, which featured Ali and her parents dancing to "Uptown Funk" by popstar Bruno Mars, has been viewed more than 13 million times.

The irony of their new video's song choice wasn't lost on Ali or Michael.

"It's a fun song to dance to," 29-year-old Ali told the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, in a phone interview from their family's Carrollton, Texas, home.

"But please don't hold my hand," Michael said, referring to the current health recommendations by authorities nationwide to avoid physical contact to slow the coronavirus spread.

Despite the viral fame, which vaulted all six members of the Hoffman family to prime-time stardom when ABC's "Dance Battle America" showcased the family in 2015, the father and daughter look for the simple joys in life amid a world that is "shutting down" all around them.

The sentiment is the same as it was in 2015: to choose and interject "joy and levity into the situation," Ali said. "If you're at home, don't give into despair and fear."

The father and daughter admit their lives, just like millions around the world, have been rapidly changing.

Ali, youth ministry director at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Carrollton, has been observing self-isolation and social distancing for more than a week. Since her parish suspended all in-person ministry in mid-March, Ali has been hosting online hand-lettering workshops through her project "The Oodles of Doodles" on social media for those staying at home who are looking to pick up a new skill.

The isolation has helped her to take stock of what she truly needs, as well as check on her community of friends and family in a time of social distancing.

The time has "definitely put an emphasis on sacrifice," Ali said. "It really put into perspective. ... 'Do I really trust in Jesus?'"

For example, Michael and Michele can't visit their newest granddaughter, who was born March 1, and Ali can't minister in person with the youth she's seen nearly weekly since last August. And Michael, a motivational speaker, has seen waves of event and conference cancellations slow down his typically busy spring schedule.

With regions across the country, including Ali's own Dallas County, going into lock down, Michael finds being sheltered at home timely for the Lenten liturgical season.

"Being (older) than Ali, (Michele and I) have been through a few things. This too shall pass. This is a season," he said. "We'll be able to say that we let the joy shine a little bit. There's no such thing as darkness. ... You can't hold it. It doesn't grow. Darkness is the absence of light and in these times, God's asking all of his people to be more light."

While government officials issued orders to self-isolate, Ali and Michael issued their own challenge to other families to post their quarantine dance videos using the hashtag #QuarantineChallenge2k20, which has seen dozens of videos.

Dan Solomon, a writer at Texas Monthly magazine, noticed Ali and Michael's "penchant for dance" and called the challenge "charmingly earnest" during the "strangest days many of us have ever lived through."

"While we all struggle to find ways to center ourselves amid the crisis, let's take a moment to gratefully acknowledge the Hoffman family for their dedication to dancing through this thing," he wrote.

The family remained focused on what they can do despite not knowing what the result might be.

"We're trying to change things and fix things to make it the outcome that we want. We're taking good measures," Ali said. "But I think this just reminds us that we're just human and we're in this together and there's a lot of fear, but there can also be a lot of light in that."

As in 2015, the family's viral videos prompted a flood of messages to Ali's inbox, most of which reflect two thoughts. Ali sees viewers sharing fond, joyful family memories with her, and a greater wish and a deeper need for community and the universal aspect of longing.

The video "does touch on the humanity" of a world in self-isolation, Ali said, noting the other viral videos of Italians and Spaniards singing from their balconies and rooftops during their mandatory quarantines.

And while everyone in the world may not have a balcony for singing, Ali said everyone has a kitchen or a room for dancing.

"Lift up your head from your belly; don't be a belly gazer and keep your head up," she said. "We're all in this together."

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Editor's Note: To view the video, visit Find Ali Hoffman on social media at

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Ramos is a staff writer and designer for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.


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Pandemic casts spotlight on a nearly forgotten martyr: St. Corona

IMAGE: CNS photo/Thilo Schmuelgen, Reuters


BONN, Germany (CNS) -- She had become nearly forgotten. Little is known about the young woman who was killed for her Christian faith, presumably in the second century A.D. But now, a pandemic is shedding light on her: St. Corona.

The German Catholic news agency KNA reports the church's martyr records put the year of her death at 177 A.D. It is not certain where she lived. A Greek account put it in Syria, while a Latin one said it was Marseilles, France, and Sicily. What is proven is that she began to be honored starting in the sixth century in northern and central Italy. All the rest is the stuff of legend -- propagated above all by monks in the Alpine region.

"This has nothing to do with the real history of Corona, but instead with stories aimed at deepening the faith," said Manfred Becker-Huberti, a German theologian known in the Rhineland as an expert on folklore and customs.

The St. Corona legends are bloody. One account is that, as a 16-year-old, she was forced to watch her husband, St. Victor, being murdered because of his faith. She died in a gruesome manner: Her persecutors tied her between two palm trees that had been bent to the ground. Her body was then torn apart when the trees were set loose to snap back into standing position.

She is above all revered in Germany's southern state of Bavaria and in Austria, KNA reports. A chapel is dedicated to her in Sauerlach, near Munich. In the Bavarian Diocese of Passau, two churches recall her name, while in the province of Lower Austria and outside of Vienna there are two towns named "Sankt Corona." In the cathedral of Munster in northwestern Germany, there is a St. Corona statue, currently decorated with flowers placed at its base. Some relics of the martyr were taken to the Prague cathedral in the 14th century.

As early as the 10th century, under Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, St. Corona relics were taken to Aachen. In 1910, during excavation work at the cathedral there, archaeologists came across the relics, which were removed from a crypt and placed in a shrine. This three-foot-tall, 220-pound relic has, until recently, been kept in storage in the Aachen cathedral treasure vault. With the coronavirus pandemic, experts have taken it out to dust it off and conserve it.

St. Corona is not the namesake for the virus. The Latin word "corona" means "crown," an indication that the young saint had achieved the "crown of eternal life" because of the steadfastness of her faith. The connection with the coronaviruses, named because of their crown-like structure, is just a coincidence.

Over the centuries, St. Corona was often prayed to by people seeking her help in times of trouble, be it heavy storms or livestock diseases.

People believed she had a positive influence regarding money matters, with "coronae" (crowns) being the name given to coins. As a result, treasure-hunters often invoked her name. In view of how COVID-19 has triggered an economic crisis, with many people fearful about money matters looming ahead, it might not be at all far-fetched for them to call on the saint for support.

In the Catholic Church's calendar of saints, her holiday is May 14. KNA reports some experts say it just might be by then that the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel will be in sight.


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