March 30, 2020 — Being together has never been more difficult than in these times of Covid-19. Across the world, however, Jesuits and non-Jesuits are showing their creativity and connecting digitally with their colleagues and the people they serve. Indeed, as Philip Shano S.J. has said “I think we are being called to more profound level of spiritual depth, a level where we do not really let anything trouble us by adapting and taking as many precautions as possible.”
Generally speaking, it is important not to forget that, although the channels for the execution of our apostolic service have changed, our mission is still the same. In an omnichannel world, although the means are different, the experience of God should continue to reach people exactly where they find it, whether on or offline.
Recently, we have suggested several technologies that Jesuits and non-Jesuits could use to adapt their work to this new context of social distancing and isolation, mostly through digital channels. Whether for individual meetings, events, or masses, in this article we highlight several ways in which different apostolates, communities and individuals can offer their gifts through other (online) channels.
In principle, the idea is not to replicate what others do, but to find creative ways to continue follow our mission, to continue our work in a different context and through other channels.
First things first
It is important to make the changes to events, materials and other activities known through your regular channels. For example, most apostolates have updated their websites to highlight any content relative to the changes caused by the epidemic either on their front pages or in a new tab (often named Covid-19). Many others have also spread the information by email or on their social networks (for example, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.)
Although 1-on-1 meetings such as spiritual accompaniment, counseling and spiritual conversations are often better in person, it is possible to do them differently. Individual accompaniment by videoconferencing, for example, is very helpful because, though not the same as an offline experience, the content promote similar spiritual movements among participants.
- Sylvester Tan, S.J, works at Villa Saint-Martin. He and his colleges have managed to hold all of their internal meetings online in order to find the best ways to respond as quickly and as efficiently as possible to the needs of people isolated by the pandemic. This centre uses Zoom to host all of its meetings. It is also possible to organize this type of meeting on Teams, a flexible tool that all Jesuits in Canada can use.
- Michael Knox, S.J, explains that the Martyrs’ Shrine offers pastoral services to the elderly in their community by telephone.
Group Meetings (5 to 10 people)
- The Jesuits in Canada have already organized many Liturgies of the Word online, including time for spiritual conversation. The explanations are clear and detailed, both for the celebrant and for the participants. A Jesuit may decide to offer them as the presider, or simply participate, allowing others to lead the group. These meetings can be held on Zoom, Messenger or Skype, for example, depending on the videoconferencing tools available to the participants. Doodle can also be used to find a time that is convenient for everyone. The advantage of this content is that all of the participants can easily access the necessary documents, without the works needing to manage any gather. The result is a sharing that is as dynamic as in a community.
- In order to continue the ministry with the students of Loyola University Chicago, Oliver Capko, S.J., explains that a number of Jesuits in formation have been leading an online Liturgy of the Word with breakout small group sharing to deepen the meaning of the Word in their lives on Sunday and Thursday evenings. The well attended Thursday Night Mass has become the “Thursday Night Zoom.” Students and Jesuits alike have appreciated seeing the community connected spiritually and virtually and the continuation of their care for the whole person.
- The Young Adult Team at Villa Saint-Martin coordinates young adult representatives from Villa Saint-Martin’s partner organizations seeking to walk with young adults through formation and retreat planning. This program has swung into high gear in response to the needs raised by the crisis by offering a variety of prayer, retreat and conversation activities every day through online means, especially various forms of videoconferencing.
- Alongside Sylvester Tan, S.J., from Villa Saint-Martin, Edmund Lo, S.J., has started giving reflections on daily Mass readings to the groups they have been accompanying over Zoom. There is a desire to gather and hear the Word together, to have it broken open and shared with them. This is not just a case of “here’s another link that you can check out on your own,” but something that actually brings people together. They have reached almost twenty participants during these virtual gatherings. Fr. Lo also prays the daily Rosary with young adults in Montreal over Zoom.
For schools, videoconferencing is often the communication tool that most resembles a classroom. It allows listening to and often engaging with the teacher with the minimum interaction.
- Edmund Lo, S.J., is preparing a formation for young adults around Canada, especially with regards to his work with the Eucharistic Youth Movement groups. This can involve teaching and leading them through a Gospel contemplation, or an Examen, or sharing of consolation or desolation. For Fr. Lo, as imperfect as it may be, the online platform offers something that suits the needs of these trying times.
- Gordon Rixon, S.J., Professor at Regis College, has moved his courses and student support online. Overnight, he and his colleagues have become well versed in videoconferencing.
- However, other teachers are turning more towards a reading of certain texts with an online chat session for a simpler solution.
Masses and Homilies
- The faithful can watch live (or later) the Mass of Our Lady of Lourdes in Toronto. The Mass, which is held in the church, giving a sense a familiarity, is easily accessible via the new Covid-19 tab on the parish’s website. One person controls the camera to follow the priest and perform the necessary framing. The sound is of good quality thanks to the microphone: something to test before trying this out for the first time.
- St. Joseph Parish in Seattle is also streaming from its church. Their weekday Masses are streamed live on Facebook, while their Sunday Masses are uploaded to their website (on the homepage) and YouTube. It can therefore be easily accessed by the faithful (we mustn’t forget that not everyone is signed up to Facebook)
- If streaming a Mass in your church is too complicated (lack of equipment, expertise, etc.) you can also redirect your parishioners to other websites. For example, the Jesuit Church of Paris is suggesting turning towards the Masses streamed in French on KTOTV.
Homilies and commentaries on liturgical texts
- St. Joseph Parish in Seattle has put its homilies online in the form of audio tapes, a practical solution which is less difficult that putting together a video.
- James Martin, S.J, broadcasts a live video from his bedroom every day on his Facebook page, reflecting on the day’s biblical text. In hosting a live video, he can greet those who follow him in real time and respond to certain comments. This option is therefore perhaps more efficient if you have an active Facebook community. His videos are also accessible, (again on Facebook) after the live broadcast.
- Homilies can also be posted online as a full text, or sent by email, but this is, of course, much less interactive.
Reflections and Prayers
- Paul Robson, S.J., at Wiikwemkoong, posts reflections on his parish’s Facebook page. He writes about the daily Mass readings and on the current situation with the virus going around.
- The Jesuit Conference has published a Meditation for those who are suffering from anxiety during the Covid-19 crisis. As well as responding to a pressing need for many people, the text walks the reader through their breathing and reflection step by step.
- Of course, Covid-19 is at the heart of many questions people are asking at the moment. The Jesuits of the French Speaking Province in Western Europe are offering a series of posts on their Covid-19 blog to help people discern, reflect, meditate and interact during this pandemic. Hosted on their website, this blog allows them to bring all their many reflections which can help people navigate these troubling times into one place. As well as the quality of these texts, the image of Saint Ignatius wearing a mask is a little nod to our current situation.
- Many prayers written especially for the pandemic are also available, such as those by America Magazine. These prayers would fit easily on the websites of any apostolate or community
- Michael Knox, S.J., also says that he and his colleagues are preparing weekly messages of prayer and reflection for the members of the Martyr’s Shrine Association. The Jesuits have also set up an online “Light a Candle” initiative on their website.
It is also possible to offer retreats which are less personalised but can reach a larger number of people.
- The Xavières are offering a retreat inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyala on the radio, and the episodes will also be available on the internet. This type of retreat allows people who don’t have an Internet connection at home to follow the retreat.
Offering pre-edited videos can demand a bit more know-how because, compared to streaming Masses, there is often some editing to do. But the result can be very simple and pertinent.
- Father Michael Rossmann, S.J., (Ignatian Solidarity Network) has produced short videos to guide the processing of the pandemic in light of the Gospel. What can we do at the moment? What place is there for Christians in healthcare? How can we continue a Christian lifestyle without gatherings? He tries to give a few brief things to think about for each of these important questions that many Christians are asking. It’s put together very simply: the camera doesn’t move, there is only one title, some subtitles and sometimes an inserted image. The videos last less than a minute: perfect for presenting a text easily, without having to practise it too much.
- In French this time, Fr. François Euvé, S.J., Editor-in-Chief of Études, analyses the role of Christians during this crisis. Produced by La Croix, the editing is more sophisticated, and is perhaps something for those communities or works who are already familiar with video editing.