Amanda Durbin brought a 4-foot wooden cross to the high school youth group at St. Mary parish in Shelbina on Ash Wednesday.
She invited each member to try carrying the cross.
Then she asked if they could help someone else carry their cross.
“Of course, we can.”
“Then will you?”
No one could imagine that Mrs. Durbin would be writing to those same young people three weeks later, when public Masses and gatherings were suspended in order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
It was time for them not only to carry their own cross but to help others — especially people who are vulnerable — carry theirs.
“The Church is always being prepared for what God needs us to do,” Mrs. Durbin stated.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight instructed all parishes in the Jefferson City diocese to form Disaster Responders Teams to plan and oversee a coordinated outreach to all people within their parish boundaries who are likely to need help due to the coronavirus pandemic and its effects.
Each parish response team was to identify and determine how best to contact people, Catholic and non-Catholic, who are elderly, alone or otherwise in need of a call.
The teams would also contact and determine how best to deploy the parishioners who volunteer to help people in need.
As of April 1, nearly 400 people had signed up as volunteers by visiting diojeffcity.org/parish-disaster-responders-team-volunteer-form.
“I am astonished by the enthusiasm and creativity our people are exhibiting during this time of crisis,” said LeAnn Korsmeyer, diocesan director of parish and charitable services.
“God is doing amazing things in our midst,” she added. “The Church is not empty, it’s being deployed.”
Mrs. Durbin and Chris Dimmitt are co-coordinators of the parish Disaster Responders Team for the Shelbina parish and neighboring St. Patrick parish in Clarence.
“The willingness and energy have always been there,” said Mrs. Durbin. “This is really pulling us together. “We’re seeing it come together and how much joy it’s bringing to people.”
The parishes’ Disaster Responders Team made a list of people who needed to be regularly contacted — including people who are living alone, who have chronic illnesses or are elderly — and divvied them up among the team’s members.
Whenever there’s news from the parishes or the diocese, the parish team members call to inform the people on the list.
“Not all of our people have access to email or social media, so they appreciate a call,” Mrs. Durbin noted.
The members also offer resources such as meals, shopping, medication pick-ups, supplies, transportation, support and prayer requests.
“One woman said it meant the world to her to know that the Church had not forgotten her,” said Mrs. Durbin.
Each of the 95 young people in kindergarten through 12th grade in both parishes was assigned to be a prayer partner for a person on the call list.
The young people mailed cards to their prayer partners and pray for them daily.
St. Mary and St. Patrick are among the congregations in the Shelby County Ministerial Association that take turns delivering groceries one day a week to people who are homebound.
A man on the parishes’ call list needs emergency surgery. A member of the parish team will take him to the hospital, and parishioners will prepare meals for him after he returns home.
Four people who work with the first person in Shelby County to test positive for COVID-19 had to be quarantined immediately.
“That Saturday, our group cooked and froze six or seven meals for each of those families,” said Mrs. Durbin.
“Seek the lost”
Before Jesus fed the 5,000, the disciples suggested sending them home because half-a-year’s wages wouldn’t be enough to buy food for all of them.
“And Jesus responded to their lack of faith with a miraculous outpouring of grace,” said Monsignor Marion Makarewicz, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake in Lake Ozark. “He is doing the same right now.”
He noted that his parishioners provide substantial funding and volunteer support for the local food pantry and have begun an outreach to show concern for local law enforcement and emergency workers.
He believes they’re experiencing a wake-up call, a summons to seven days of personal prayer and active outreach per week in response to the grace of the Sunday sacraments.
“We need to take that sacramental grace out into the world and live it,” he said.
The local economy relies heavily on tourism, which is on hold due to the pandemic.
Even after the coronavirus threat subsides, “the social and economic vulnerability of our community is going to be the lasting problem,” said Msgr. Makarewicz. “Things won’t be the same for many people from now on. And they can’t be the same for us as Catholics.”
Since arriving in 2017, he has been encouraging Our Lady of the Lake parishioners to “move from passive reception of those who drop in, to actively seeking out those who need the Gospel.”
“God’s providence has shown us clearly that for us to continue as a parish and truly evangelize, we must break out of our passive attitude and actively seek the lost and forsaken,” he said.
Praying at all hours
The coronavirus had not as of April 1 made its way to the arc in the river that gives Osage Bend its name.
“We just keep praying — in the middle of the night, in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening — that it never comes,” said Deacon Fred Schmitz, parish life collaborator of St. Margaret of Antioch parish.
But stay-at-home orders and other factors have brought other problems to some local residents.
The parish set up an emergency phone number that people can call for assistance at any time.
The parish’s Disaster Responders Team identified people in the area — especially people who are not listed in the parish directory — with whom to stay in regular contact.
“Is there anything we can do for you?” the team members are asking when they call. “Do you have someone looking in on you? If you have any kind of need, please do not be afraid to call.”
Deacon Schmitz called to mind all of the healthcare workers in other parts of the country and the world who are risking their lives to help people who are sick.
“It all boils down to putting your faith and trust in Almighty God, through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” he said.
“Ready to assist”
Ss. Peter & Paul parish in Boonville and St. Joseph parish in Fayette recently bulk mailed postcards to parish households. Printed on the cards are the “Act of Spiritual Communion” prayer, along with contact information for assistance.
Parishioners have been making wellness calls by phone to senior citizens and families of people with health risks.
“We have volunteers ready to assist them,” said Father William Peckman, pastor of both parishes. “We are partnering with the Cooper County Health Department in making sure uninsured people can get tested for COVID-19. We are also assisting in providing aid to our parishioners and those in our community who have lost jobs due to COVID-19 or have COVID-19 in the home. We have received great help from our local Knights of Columbus in this. We are adapting as the needs present themselves.”
Father Mark Smith, pastor of St. Peter parish in Marshall and the Holy Family mission in Sweet Springs, wrote to his parishioners that he is “humbled and strengthened by the grace of God that I see active around me in the works and care of so many of you.”
He noted that parishioners have taken Missouri Valley College students into their home, following the school’s suggestion that students move out of the residence halls.
Some parishioners have run errands for people who can’t or shouldn’t leave their homes.
Some are helping with food distribution to students through the public school system, and some are increasing their contributions to the food pantries.
“We can’t stop”
How do you replenish the local food pantry during a pandemic?
Go cruising, of course!
“We called it ‘Cruising for a Cause,’” said Mrs. Durbin.
Members of the Shelbina and Clarence parishes joined people of all faith backgrounds in loading pantry staples into their cars March 30 and driving to a local drop-off point.
Volunteers there maintained proper social distancing while retrieving the food from the trunks of the cars that pulled through the driveway.
The people then cruised the main road through Shelbina for about two hours, waving to each other and slowing down to wave to residents looking out the window of the local nursing home.
Fifteen of those residents who are parishioners were in a faith sharing group for the diocesan “Better Together” pastoral planning process.
“Much of the wisdom they shared in that group is now coming into play in our response to the crisis,” said Mrs. Durbin.
Parish Disaster Responders Team members making calls immediately recognized a great hunger in the communities for this level of engagement.
“We need to keep calling,” said Mrs. Durbin. “We can’t stop doing this when the crisis is over. We need to stay in touch and keep helping”
Toward that end, St. Mary and St. Patrick parishes plan to establish their own conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — an international Catholic organization led by laypeople, which promotes prayerful solidarity and concrete acts of charity in local communities.
“We’ll always remember that it was born of the pandemic,” said Mrs. Durbin.
She believes the stronger bonds that parishioners throughout the diocese are experiencing through service also intensifies the desire for communal worship.
“We’ve never known this kind of separation from the Mass in our lifetimes,” Mrs. Durbin noted. “I have an overwhelming sense that the people of the Church will come back tenfold when public Masses resume in our diocese. It’s going to be amazing!”