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Fr Ross writes...

This Sunday is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week which this year because of the Covid-19 outbreak will not be a public celebration, so as to limit the spread of the virus and to protect our most vulnerable in society, to save lives and to save the NHS from being overwhelmed. In Europe this is probably the first time a public celebration of Easter has not taken place since the days of Roman Imperial persecution. In the UK this will be the first time Easter has not been celebrated publically in living memory and for Catholics possibly since penal times when Catholicism was banned by the protestant government. This I know will be very sad and emotional for all of us and as a priest I can think of nothing worse than celebrating the Holy Week liturgies by myself without my joint parishes family. We do indeed live in strange times.

The past two weeks have been without a doubt the most difficult I have ever experienced as a priest. First we had the suspension of public masses and liturgies, then the lock down and the closure of all churches and schools for the foreseeable future, along with that a final scrambled together end of school liturgy for St Patrick’s School as the children departed. This was followed by a now prolonged period of quiet and social distancing and isolation. The quiet roads, a quiet church to say a private quiet Mass in, a quiet presbytery as Marion self-isolated (not that Marion makes a lot of noise anyway!), the quiet of the school playground, the quiet doorbell of the presbytery and the quiet bafflement as email after email pings into the office email and my personal email account, which combined often totals between 60 and 80 a day as information, directives, news of cancelled meetings and events, Ad Clerums and concerns from worried anxious parishioners and colleagues flood in. This quiet is interspersed with the ringing of the parish telephone as people began to worry and fret about things, including my parents on the Isle of Wight who are both now well into their 70’s and not in the best of health. What is God calling us to do, to be, to experience during this time of lockdown I ask myself?

Then to top all of this off, I was asked by the Diocese this week to send all of our paid staff on furlough, because financially the church and the Diocese are no longer in a position to continue to pay salaries because of the loss of vital income caused by the closure of churches and halls and the suspension of fund raising activities as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The Church as we know is a charity which is mainly run off the generosity of parishioners and others through charitable giving via collections and fundraising. Like many other charities at this time, we find that our outgoings are more than our incomings and the parish debt is beginning to rise once again. By asking our paid staff to go on furlough the Diocese is able through the Government’s Job Retention Scheme to claim back 80% of staff pay to give job security and safety during these difficult financial times. This meant that at very short notice I had to speak to each of our paid staff, Marion P, Marion J, Mika and Niel to ask them to stay at home for the month of April and possibly longer. Due to the rules of the Job Retention Scheme all of our paid staff must now stay at home and are not allowed to come to the Presbytery, Church or the Office and are not allowed to do any work during this time, even if they volunteer to do so. What is God calling us to do, to be, to experience during this time of lockdown I ask myself?

Then to top all of this off, I was asked by the Diocese this week to send all of our paid staff on furlough, because financially the church and the Diocese are no longer in a position to continue to pay salaries because of the loss of vital income caused by the closure of churches and halls and the suspension of fund raising activities as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The Church as we know is a charity which is mainly run off the generosity of parishioners and others through charitable giving via collections and fundraising. Like many other charities at this time, we find that our outgoings are more than our incomings and the parish debt is beginning to rise once again. By asking our paid staff to go on furlough the Diocese is able through the Government’s Job Retention Scheme to claim back 80% of staff pay to give job security and safety during these difficult financial times. This meant that at very short notice I had to speak to each of our paid staff, Marion P, Marion J, Mika and Neil to ask them to stay at home for the month of April and possibly longer. Due to the rules of the Job Retention Scheme all of our paid staff must now stay at home and are not allowed to come to the Presbytery, Church or the Office and are not allowed to do any work during this time, even if they volunteer to do so. What is God calling us to do, to be, to experience during this time of lockdown I ask myself?

As a priest I personally feel a sense of isolation from you all, but this is helped by knowing that many of you are continuing to connect with the Mass through the watching of live Masses on the internet and through your prayers. I am trying to telephone five parishioners a day, but in reality I may only ‘phone two or three. Being a Parish Priest of two parishes means I am stretched very thinly in what I can do and achieve. Routine during this time of isolation is also important and I find the Divine Office keeps my day anchored in a routine of prayer. Usually my Divine Office was rushed as I hurried on to other things, but now it is not, so I spend more time in prayer. I say Mass at 12 noon and take exercise or do gardening in the afternoon. Then in the evening I cook my meal and watch EastEnders which sadly is only on twice a week now.

So in answer to my own questions, I am hoping to come closer to God during this time of lockdown. I spend more time in prayer and I am reminded that many people of the Christian life have lived a solitary and isolated life and it made them grow closer to God. I think of St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Calcutta as examples. This time of isolation makes me more aware of our Christian brethren who are not allowed to worship publicly in other parts of the world where Christians are persecuted. It makes me appreciate more the luxury of being able to worship freely and openly.

As we approach Holy Week and Easter the quiet world we now live in reminds me that after all the noise, the chaos and the bloody scene of the crucifixion and humankind at its worse, all became silent. The silence of the tomb, the stillness of Jesus’ body at rest in that quiet tomb. The silence of the tomb and the silence of the world outside as night falls – the silence of a world that awaits a saviour.

God speaks in the silence and it is in the silence of a tomb that Jesus is left in peace. It is from this silence that God is going to speak again with an act so great that it changed the entire world – The Resurrection.

Let us then in our isolation this Holy Week join in the silence of Jesus’ tomb and let God speak to us. Jesus emerged from the tomb changed and so will we emerge changed from what we experience now. We adore thee, O Christ and we bless thee because by thy holy cross thou has redeemed the world.

Fr Ross 3rd April 2020

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The parish is part of the Diocese of Portsmouth.

Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan Trust

Registered Charity 246871.
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Marion Patient

Parish Secretary

St Patrick's House

45, Portsmouth Road

Southampton

SO19 9BD

Call: 023 8044 8671

Email: eastside@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk

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