The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Do the words above sound familiar? This is the same greeting with which the priest welcomes the people of God as they gather for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It has been a long time since you and I were able to gather in our beloved church for worship because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This pandemic has brought about great suffering and turmoil to our families, our parish, our nation and our world. I mourn for those who have died and I sympathize with those who are suffering: suffering from bad health, from loss of business or jobs, from mental and emotional stress, and other difficulties.
But through this experience I have learned how incredibly generous, courageous, and resourceful our neighbors are, from the doctors, nurses and caregivers on the frontline to the truck drivers, supermarket workers and H.O.P.E. volunteers.
There are so many examples I can share with you to show you how awesome our parishioners are and what kind of parish we have built here at Saint Irenaeus. We recently had the food collections for H.O.P.E. ministry to distribute to our neighbors in need, due to an increase in demand because of the health pandemic. The school families and parishioners came out in droves to drop off countless bags of food. They did it patiently and joyfully with smiles on their faces.
On another occasion, several of our staff members called our parishioners to see if they needed anything; and, it is gratifying to hear that our parishioners appreciated that someone cared enough to reach out to them. In fact, many volunteered to assist others who may be in need.
Another incident that made me feel loved and cared for was just the other day during Mass. I had a dry mouth and a slight cough while celebrating Mass. Someone on the other end of our Facebook live-stream noticed this and commented, “Father, gargle with warm salt water to clear your throat.” Thanks for the tip!
The following story is another example that makes me proud and privileged to be associated with Saint Irenaeus. A concerned daughter called me to visit and anoint her dying father at a local hospital. Because of the quarantine order and the strict hospital rule, she was not able to be with her father at this particular time. I was able to be at her father’s bedside to pray for him and anoint him. Although there were just two of us in the room — pastor and parishioner — I felt that we were accompanied by a whole host of people, our family in faith. The father shortly passed into eternal peace. This was possible only because of the faith and love this daughter has for her father. I commend this family for giving us an example of how to love and care for one’s parents as commanded by our Lord. It is certainly in these kinds of moments that I understand and appreciate what Saint Paul said, “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
I can go on and on with examples that prove, beyond a doubt, that our parishioners are followers of Jesus Christ, particularly in this time of pandemic. The physical church building may be closed for the time being, but our hearts are certainly not. They are open to Christ and open to the service of others.
I ask for your patience and cooperation as we slowly open up the church for public worship and for other ministries. Although there are many uncertainties surrounding COVID-19, Bishop Kevin Vann and his advisors will come up with some safety measures to help us in this long and complicated process. In the meantime, I thank you for your continued prayer, commitment, and financial support of St. Irenaeus Parish.
We are living through a unique time to say the least; however, there’s something special going on right now. I sense the Holy Spirit moving within our community and I am proud that you’re here with me.
You are a part of St. Irenaeus, and you belong right here in our community. We are blessed to have you as part of our family.
You and your family are in my prayers, and I hope that I am in yours.
Gratefully in Christ,
Fr. Binh Nguyen