By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
As a way for parishioners to pray for people in Wapello County who have been affected by COVID-19, Father Jim Betzen, C.PP.S., set up a shrine on an old altar in the sanctuary of St. Mary of the Visitation Church in Ottumwa. On each side of the altar is a candle — one for those who are ill, and one for those who have died, the pastor said.
As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the Diocese of Davenport, parishes have found ways to meet the needs of parishioners who have been significantly affected by the pandemic.
“Throughout the pandemic the number one request has been Mass intentions,” said Father Guillermo Trevino, parochial vicar for St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty, St. Bernadette Parish in West Branch and St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. “People and families have been requesting them any time a person is sick.”
Parishioners have also identified financial needs. The West Liberty parish helps get the word out when parishioners start online fundraisers for funeral expenses. Additionally, the parish has started taking up a collection the second Sunday of each month for parishioners with financial needs, including funeral expenses, heating bills and electric bills. “People with needs approach the parish, and we try to help as best we can.”
St. Anthony Parish in Davenport has assisted community members dealing with COVID-19 by providing food through its pantry and Mc Anthony Window program. “People have come on their behalf and gotten the food,” said John Cooper, pastoral associate and business manager. The parish has used technology to help individuals with COVID-19 choose items from the pantry. Earlier this month, “we used FaceTime with the family to walk through the pantry to identify what they could use.” A parishioner who battled COVID-19 recently told The Catholic Messenger that pre-made meals are a huge blessing because the intense fatigue associated with the disease makes cooking difficult.
At Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport, the disease has not been an issue as much as the “fallout” from the pandemic, said Lisa Willows, the parish’s director of communications and safe environment coordinator.
During the closures of diocesan churches in late spring and early summer, staff and volunteers called to check up on parishioners. During these calls, several needs were identified. Some parishioners said they felt isolated and lonely due to the risk of going into public places. Others had a hard time finding people to help with tasks such as picking up groceries and prescriptions and getting to doctor appointments. Some needed pre-made meals. A few parishioners said they had been “hit hard financially by the pandemic,” Willows said.
In response, the parish started a COVID Angels program to match individuals needing help with those who are able to provide it. Through a form on the parish website, parishioners can identify what they need or what they wish to do. For personal needs, such as grocery deliveries and hospitality calls, the parish matches up people and keeps the pairings consistent so friendships can form.
One woman in the parish calls 23 parishioners a week to see how they are doing. “She has become good friends with them,” Willows said. “For some, she’s the only person they’re talking to because they’re not going out.”
The COVID angels program has turned out to be a “really cool thing,” that has allowed parishioners to help each other during a difficult time, Willows said. That helping spirit is something that can be carried on even after the pandemic is over.