Catholics Coping with COVID Not Just a Problem in the U.S
Reflections from ‘across the pond’ on keeping the faith afloat in hazardous times
By Louise Brass, Observer Correspondent
September 3, 2020
The Ark of Peter, as the Roman Catholic Church is often called, has had a bumpy sojourn through history in many areas of the world, including in England, in bygone centuries. 
But the closing of churches this year for health and safety during this latest pandemic has been as unexpected over there as in the United States, many Catholics say. 
It is ironic that closed churches and Catholic schools, as well as those of other denominations, came just when England and America were poised to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Pilgrims on the ship, Mayflower, to secure religious freedom in the wilds of America. 
400th anniversary of the Mayflower
The Pilgrims set sail for the “New World” in search of religious liberty, after trying in vain to settle in Holland and England. They gathered some supplies and sailed first out of the historic port of Southampton, England on Aug. 15, 1620. 
They were forced to stop in Plymouth, England, temporarily for repairs, then continued on across the stormy Atlantic Ocean. They arrived at New England in November of that year, after a treacherous voyage.
Those who survived the journey befriended the Wampanoag people, according to the Plymouth 1620 organization, and the Pilgrims began a new life focused on freedom to worship God as they believed they should, based on Biblical principles, without governmental restrains. 
That goal, and some of their writings inspired the U.S. Declaration of Independence and much of the freedoms guaranteed in the United States Constitution. 
Celebrations delayed on both shores
Celebrations of the Mayflower anniversary in Southampton and at Plymouth have been delayed, but it is good to see the churches reopening now, albeit slowly, said John Windibank, a parishioner of Christ the King in Southampton. 
Before the pandemic struck, this grandfather was a daily Mass goer, and it has not been easy to have to stay home for months, he said. 
But he has spent many hours in his garden, including enjoying a goldfish pond with its tiny “jewels of creation” swimming around oblivious to the drama of the coronavirus-troubled world above their watery home. 
And now, 400 years after the Pilgrims left Southampton, the United States has sent back across “the pond” the opportunities to celebrate the faith virtually, via the internet, during the stay-at-home orders, necessitated by the coronavirus. 
Watches Mass on EWTN
“I have been watching Mass from the U.S. and the Vatican on EWTN, on Sky Catholic Channel,” said Windibank during a telephone interview. “Our Mass started back on July 26, but you have to phone and book before you go and sign in when you arrive with name, address, and phone number.
“Only 70 people are allowed in, every other row remains empty,” he continued. “I counted 23 people the first week and about 42 the next week and no singing allowed,” he said. 
The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Right Rev. Philip A. Egan, said in a diocesan website letter to the faithful that while the situation has not been easy, many have worked diligently to bring relief. 
Works of charity continue
“Each day, our priests have continued to pray and to offer Holy Mass for their people,” the Bishop said. “Each day, parish and school communities have sought to care for the poor and needy. Each day, our faithful, whilst having to endure a long and painful period of time without the salvific support of the sacraments, have continued to offer prayer at home and to join live-streamed liturgies and devotions online,” the bishop said. 
He added that chaplains have worked on the front-line, along with others caring for the dying. 
“Many parishes, many priests and many people have been amazingly creative, keeping in touch with one another and with the most vulnerable by phone and by email,” the bishop wrote, in a message on the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul. 
‘It is now a great consolation that, within the requisite safeguards … our parish Roman Catholic churches at last have begun to reopen and the public celebration of the sacred Liturgy is to resume.” 
For Windibank, like his fellow parishioners, returning to Mass has been a blessing even though still with some restrictions. 
“Getting back is almost like nothing has changed. We carry on,” he said. 
Bishop Egan implored Catholics to continue praying for the Lord’s protection and a resolution of the pandemic. 
Historians note that those who sailed west four centuries ago also reported placing their unwavering faith in God during their long and painful journey, despite the loss of many lives while at sea. 
In the end, their faith in God carried them through, and many reached their promised land. 
Editor’s note: Louise Brass is a native of England, a parishioner at St. Edward in Rockord, a freelance journalist and regular correspondent for The Observer.
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