Kerbside rites and lockdown soup all part of Catholic work in Covid-19 times

Fr Maurice Carmody praying by a hearse stopped outside is Plimmerton house4

Catholic agencies and individuals around Aotearoa-New Zealand are busy working from home and still-open “essential services” supporting communities in need during the Level 4 Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown.

Foodbanks and soup kitchens are two very busy basic services working hard behind the scenes. But some extraordinary ingenuity is being used in these extraordinary times, when essential Catholic spiritual work such as attending to the sick and dying is severely restricted by Level 4 rules.

Father Maurice Carmody of Plimmerton, north of Wellington, is saying kerbside prayers for the dead as funeral directors pause their hearse outside his home, which is close to St Theresa’s Church, where he is parish priest.

Father Maurice meets the funeral directors -- at the required social distance – by the roadside. Standing near the open rear door of the hearse, he says the prayers of final commendation while the family watches and prays over a phone video link.

“I was able to pray the prayers and bless the remains of their loved ones knowing they were there,” Father Maurice said of the scene in the photo above. “It was a beautiful experience, and it was something I felt graced to do.”

Archdiocese of Wellington Vicar for Māori Deacon Danny Karatea-Goddard has been using technology to remotely accompany whānau in their tangi.

“Even though we are not able to be there kanohi ki te kanohi [face to face], we are reaching out using alternatives. It’s not the best way of doing things but it’s what we can do.”

Deacon Danny says he is able to train younger whānau members to offer words of farewell and prayer: “Families themselves are drawing on their own resources.”

Technology cannot help with all funeral lockdown problems, but grieving families should contact parishes to link with the support available. The Government has said the intended change to Alert Level 3 – whenever it happens – will allow 10 people to attend a funeral, though families will need to decide who the 10 will be.

With churches closed by the lockdown rules, online Mass has proved extremely popular. Daily Mass is streamed live in each of the country’s six dioceses and from many parishes, with priests and bishops celebrating Mass within their “bubbles”. The National Liturgy Office regularly updates its list of online Masses. Go to the page here for details.

Auckland Vinnies volunteers loading food parcels for delivery2

Vinnies volunteers loading food parcels for delivery

Work that is less visible nationally but very important locally is happening everywhere. In Dunedin, two St Vincent de Paul staff have continued to work providing food parcels. Because the usual donations of food at parish Masses has not been available, food has been bought with donated money, including with a grant from the Tindall Foundation.

The Dunedin and Central Otago Catholic Social Services (CSS) counselling and social work teams are keeping in touch with people using Zoom and phone calls, providing support, counselling, information and helping people get food parcels, technology support and financial help when needed.

Mike Tonks, CSS  Dunedin Director, says life for some people has been a little easier under lockdown, with some having less anxiety and reporting they are coping better.

In Christchurch, Catholic Social Services Manager Jon Brian says team members are working from home to support parishioners via phone and video link. People are pleased to “unload” to a professional counsellor outside their “bubble,” he says.

“Almost all the people reached didn’t expect to be contacted or to be able to contact counsellors; they were pleasantly surprised and grateful for that.” Jon said.  

Catholic hospital chaplains are continuing to work from home, connecting with patients and hospital staff by phone and other devices. Wellington hospital chaplain Lizzie Wootton says chaplains are learning to adapt to new rhythms and routines, at a time when face to face contact is not possible. But she is able to talk to and pray with people in hospital using their own and hospital phones.

“I try to be present to them, because human presence in any form helps with mental health and healing,” Lizzie said.

Wellington’s Compassion Soup Kitchen – founded in 1901 by Sister Suzanne Aubert – has doubled its meal production to more than 150 a day since the lockdown started at midnight on March 25.  Operating under Level 4 as an essential service for the city’s most vulnerable people, the kitchen has closed its communal dining area, instead distributing meals at the door.  

Volunteers prearing meals in the Compassion Soup Kitchen Wellington Photo courtesy Stuff

Clara, Rose, Louise and Sister Ruth keep the Compassion Soup Kitchen going.

An article praising the kitchen’s work was published in the Dominion Post newspaper and on Stuff on April 1.  

In Auckland, Catholic Social Services, Catholic Caring Foundation and St Vincent de Paul’s foodbank in Newton are working together to get food parcels out to the elderly. Parishes are also responding to the crisis by setting up phone groups to call elderly parishioners to see who needs help.

One parish is forwarding fresh produce to Vinnies, while another is ensuring that protective gear is made available to the volunteers and staff at the foodbank. Another parish programme is being set up to help the elderly receive their flu vaccinations.