Bishop Ponders Post-Pandemic Church

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by Martina Moyski  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 21, 2020   

Calls for purification, catechesis, evangelization

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Rhode Island prelate is urging Catholics to pursue personal holiness and renew their commitment to evangelization in the midst of the Wuhan pandemic.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence expressed his concern for a post-pandemic world in an April 19 pastoral message, asking: "When our churches re-open for public worship, how will the faithful respond? ... What will the Church look like in the days to come?" 

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Bp. Thomas Tobin

In the six-page missive, titled, "The State of the Church in the Diocese of Providence in the Age of Coronavirus," Bp. Tobin reflected on how Catholics can negotiate such questions.  

"I'm convinced that as a Church community — in the diocese, in our parishes, schools and organizations — this post-crisis moment invites us to redouble our commitment to evangelization," he said.

In a particularly rousing section, the bishop advocated that the faithful use every means possible to spread the Good News. 

"We should be emboldened to employ every legitimate strategy and tactic we can think of: door-to-door visits, parish receptions, continuing education, Sunday bulletins, public advertising and social media," he said. "We can enlist our parish organizations, senior citizens, young adults and youth groups to assist in this task."

"But while we want to grow the Church, an increase in numbers isn't the final goal," Tobin added. "This moment in history is a new opportunity to appreciate the goodness, truth and beauty of our Catholic Faith and to share with others the blessings that have been ours."

The bishop also asked if the suffering connected to "quarantine and social distancing has purified the faithful."

"We've grown accustomed to wearing masks in public, but I wonder if the experience has also unmasked our rather casual complacency," he queried. "Has it challenged our smug presumption that the Church and the sacraments will always be there for us?"

We've grown accustomed to wearing masks in public, but I wonder if the experience has also unmasked our rather casual complacency.

Bishop Tobin also lamented the absence of available sacraments. "It broke my heart when we were obliged to suspend all public worship and to severely limit access to our church buildings," he said, adding it was a pain "heightened by the approaching celebration of Holy Week."

"I made a conscious decision to be a 'good citizen' and to cooperate with public officials in every way possible, primarily because of our mutual and serious obligation to protect the health and safety of our fellow citizens," he explained.

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Voicing concern over the pandemic's impact on Catholics' spiritual life, Tobin asked whether, post-lockdown, many faithful will have "grown accustomed to watching the Mass on TV or online, and find that it's not necessary to attend in person, or will they have missed the sense of community, their parish family, and realize that 'virtual participation' can never replace the grace of being personally present?" 

"It is my fond hope, my prayer, 'my aspiration,' that by May 31st, the Solemnity of Pentecost, we will be able to gather in our churches again," Tobin said, adding the caveat, "even with a limited number of worshippers if necessary," for celebration of Mass.

It is my fond hope, my prayer, 'my aspiration,' that by May 31st, the Solemnity of Pentecost, we will be able to gather in our churches again.

"The Church needs Her perennial Pentecost," the bishop reflected, pointing to the words of St. Pope Paul VI. "She needs fire in Her heart, words on Her lips and prophecy in Hher outlook. She needs to be the temple of the Holy Spirit."

Expounding on the idea of the pandemic providing a unique chance at re-evangelization, he added: 

We have a new opportunity to reach out to and welcome back our own faithful Catholics whom we've desperately missed, as well as Catholics who have drifted away, (especially so many younger adults), those who have been alienated from the Church for any reason, and those who have never been members of the Church.

Bishop Tobin is not the only prelate to foreground the importance of evangelization. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas recently founded St. Philip's Institute for Cathechesis of Evangelization, dedicated to teaching the gospel with the fervor of early Christians.

In a recent interview with Church Militant, Bp. Strickland said:

Evangelization is the outpouring of the zeal that the gift of the Holy Spirit brought the Church at Pentecost. It is not a tired message. Quite the opposite, it is more desperately needed today than ever. We need new saints to rise up in the joy of the gospel and proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ. The compromise with the world has to end.

Early in his papacy in 2013, Pope Francis penned the apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), which begins with the pontiff's "wish" for the Christian faithful "to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church's journey in years to come."

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Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel

The pope's exhortation at the time filled the faithful around the world with hope for a "new chapter" of evangelization, not merely in terms of increased numbers of Catholics, as Bp. Tobin puts it, but as an opportunity to share "the goodness, truth and beauty" of the Catholic Faith.

In it, Francis promised, "Wherever there is life, fervor and a desire to bring Christ to others, genuine vocations will arise."

The pope challenged every Christian then, as Bp. Tobin does now, "to be actively engaged in evangelization," clarifying that "anyone who has truly experienced God's saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love."

"In short, let's resolve to turn the coronavirus crisis into a moment of purification, rebirth and renewal for the entire Church. It's something we should start talking about and planning for right now," the bishop concluded.

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