Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence reflected Sunday on the potential outcome of the coronavirus pandemic, encouraging Catholics to develop plans for evangelization.
“When our churches re-open for public worship, how will the faithful respond? … Will they have grown accustomed to watching the Mass on TV or online, and find that it’s not necessary to attend in person, or will they have missed the sense of community, their parish family, and realize that ‘virtual participation’ can never replace the grace of being personally present?” he asked in his April 19 pastoral message “The State of the Church in the Diocese of Providence in the Age of Coronavirus.”
“I’m convinced that as a Church community – in the diocese, in our parishes, schools and organizations – this post-crisis moment invites us to redouble our commitment to evangelization.”
Bishop Tobin decried the negative impacts of the virus, especially the absence of regularly available sacraments.
He said it is uncertain how the coronavirus will affect the future, but the Diocese of Providence will be changed as a result. While this is a confusing time, he said, it is still an opportunity to conduct evangelization efforts and pursue personal holiness.
“We have a new opportunity to reach out to and welcome back our own faithful Catholics whom we’ve desperately missed, as well as Catholics who have drifted away, (especially so many younger adults), those who have been alienated from the Church for any reason, and those who have never been members of the Church,” he said.
“We should be emboldened to employ every legitimate strategy and tactic we can think of: door-to-door visits, parish receptions, continuing education, Sunday bulletins, public advertising, and social media.”
He said the task can be carried out by people of all ages, that some parishioners have continued to tithe during this crisis, and that the Catholic Charity Appeal, while financially debilitated by the quarantine, has continued to provide assistance to those with immediate needs.
He said the final goal of evangelization is not to increase the number of people in Church, although this is an important aspect, but to share and embrace an authentic experience of Catholicism. He said people should begin preparations now by praying, practicing virtue, and trying to imitate Christ.
“This moment in history is a new opportunity to appreciate the goodness, truth and beauty of our Catholic Faith, and to share with others the blessings that have been ours.”
“In short, let’s resolve to turn the coronavirus crisis into a moment of purification, rebirth and renewal for the entire Church. It’s something we should start talking about and planning for right now.”
As the virus has placed a lockdown on religious services worldwide, Tobin decried the absence of the sacraments in recent weeks, especially during the Easter season. He expressed hope that church communities will be able to gather for Pentecost.
“It is my fond hope, my prayer, my ‘aspiration,’ that by May 31st, the Solemnity of Pentecost, we will be able to gather in our churches again, even with a limited number of worshippers if necessary, for the public celebration of Holy Mass and to invoke the healing grace of the Holy Spirit,” he said.