A month into the Covid-19 lockdown, the town of Abbeyfeale became the focus of national attention, when the documentary Abbeyfealegood was broadcast on RTE television.
The title of the documentary was well chosen, as Abbeyfeale is an incredibly good place to live, to work and to raise a family. The experience of living under the shadow of Covid-19 has brought the best out in people. People have rallied round to the assistance of those who are cocooned or living alone.
Gestures of goodwill are everywhere to be seen, like the young shop assistant who delivers a newspaper to an elderly customer every morning and takes time to check in with her about her fears and concerns. Community organisations led by Abbeyfeale Community Council have organised support structures for people who are isolated because of the restrictions. Yes, Abbeyfeale is a good community to live in and the fruits of that goodness are very evident during this pandemic.
As a priest in the community much of my time and ministry is spent with people. With the arrival of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown, all of that personal interaction as I knew it, ended over one weekend. Suddenly, I was looking at empty church pews. Visiting parishioners in their homes was not a wise or a safe thing to do. There are no parish or school meetings. Life as I knew it up to St Patrick’s Day ground to a halt in an instant.
A number of years ago, a webcam was installed in our local church. It has provided a means for parishioners to join in the celebration of Mass and other church ceremonies every day. At first it was a shock to have no physical congregation present in the church, but we know that hundreds of people link into our celebration of Mass each weekday. At weekends, the numbers of people joining us on the internet link increases significantly. During the month of April, we have had more than 10,000 join us for Mass and the Holy Week ceremonies. Fr Shoji and I have had to adapt very quickly, but it has taught us much about the importance of digital communications.
From the time that Jesus preached his sermon on the mount, the Church has used every means to communicate the ‘Good News’ of the Gospel. Through this present crisis, I have discovered that digital communication provides opportunities for far-reaching pastoral possibilities, that I never imagined were possible to engage in until now. Of course, many parishioners do not have broadband, but West Limerick 102FM, community radio broadcasts Mass live from Abbeyfeale church every Sunday morning at 10am. We have also begun to use other digital platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to communicate with families and children who are in the first communion and confirmation classes.
The Gospel message of Jesus Christ in one of hope. I have been particularly conscious of trying to communicate that hope to all who join us on our online liturgies. Using new communication technologies, priests can give people an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ.
Alongside traditional means, digital communication has opened up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis. In a way Covid-19 has opened up a whole new world for the seeds of the gospel to be sown, and right now the world is fertile ground for the ‘Good News’ of the Gospel.