The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced the Catholic Church in Canada to significantly change the way it operates, but the far-ranging impact of the global health crisis has reinforced and strengthened the Church’s commitment to its mission, said Archbishop Richard Gagnon.
The president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a post-plenary interview with Canadian Catholic News, said adjusting to the realities of the pandemic have been difficult for parishioners and clergy, but it has shown how important a personal connection with God and the Church is in the lives of many Canadians.
“We don’t know what the next year will be like, but we do know that there is a need for the connection that the Church can bring,” said Gagnon, who is the Archbishop of Winnipeg.
“It is undeniable that our lives and vocation as bishops have undergone strain and stress, difficulties and hardships, to different degrees,” Gagnon told his fellow leaders of the Catholic Church in Canada when the CCCB held its annual Plenary Assembly as an online gathering during the week of Sept. 21-25.
“There is no doubt that COVID and the public health situation has created challenges for the Church. There is obviously a financial impact on our churches because of the impact on Sunday collections, and there has been an impact on the morale of our clergy.”
The issue of morale, Gagnon said, will need to be monitored.
While some of the restrictions on church attendance that had closed places of worship across the country earlier in the pandemic were eased in the past few months, they may need to be re-established as a so-called “second wave” of the coronavirus sees the number of COVID-19 cases spike in Canada’s largest provinces — Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Alberta.
“(The clergy) can’t go out and do the outreach to their parishioners that they are used to doing. There has been an impact on the morale of our clergy because they have not been able to do what they have been called to do,” he said.
Gagnon said parishioners have told him and Canada’s other bishops that the inability to interact at the parish level has been a difficult adjustment to make, even if the Church has been using technology to keep connected.
“I am sure it is the same for many of the other faiths, but there is going to be an adjustment period and it is going to be a long time before all of our churches are back to normal,” Gagnon said. “It is not going to be like the flip of a switch and then everything is back to normal.
“We will have to overcome a malaise that may happen about going to church since many haven’t been able to do so for a long time.
“There may also be the fear of getting together in large crowds that may last for a while depending on how the public health situation is,” he said.
“There is no way to know what the situation will be like a year from now … will there be a vaccine, will there still need to be restrictions and limits on social gatherings and places of worship?” Gagnon said. “We just don’t know.”
While the need to go online for the annual gathering of Canada’s bishops meant that traditional aspects of the meeting, which has been held in Cornwall, Ont., in recent years, had to be dropped from the meeting’s agenda in 2020, Gagnon believes the meeting was a success and will pay dividends in parishes across the country.
“There were some difficulties doing it online at first as we adjusted to meeting by computer and there wasn’t the social aspect to the plenary that there has been in the past, but it did allow us to really understand and talk about what our mission is and how important the Church is to Canadians by the way we, as clergy, and our parishes and parishioners have worked together to adapt to the situation,” he said.