Drive-In Mass, YouTube, and Facebook are three new ways that the United States military chaplains are keeping in touch with their Catholic communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Internationally and domestically, Catholics, both military and civilian, have temporarily stopped in-person services. For military chaplains, this change has allowed for some imaginative ways to celebrate Mass and provide other services and ministries.
In Japan, CH (LTC) Alan Irizarry, celebrated Palm Sunday Mass by livestreaming and then went to the front of the chapel to distribute Holy Communion to those who attended Mass from their car. For many of the faithful, Father Irizarry’s efforts did not go unnoticed.
Sgt. 1st Class Cruzy Cruz, watched Father Irizarry celebrate Mass through the livestream and received Holy Communion, was very appreciative of the gesture and explained why.
“It is most important during these times of hardship and uncertainty, because it is now more than ever that we need to keep our faith and still keep our religious routine,” Cruz said. “Receiving Communion reminds us in this time of suffering by many that Jesus also suffered for us, and that by Jesus’s love, this all will pass.”
On many installations, drive-in Mass during Holy Week was not an option, but at Fort Carson, curbside confession and palm pickup were available. Chaplains braved the unsavory weather to provide faithful with reconciliation, as well as distribution of blessed palm on Palm Sunday.
The Catholic Community at the fort was recently allowed to receive Holy Communion by driving up in their vehicles, but, as so many others had to participate in Mass through livestreaming. In general live streaming has been the most effective way for the priests to maintain contact with the faithful.
“I had to find creative new ways to provide spiritual care to the crew,” said Father Mark C. Bristol, CHC, LT, USN, a chaplain on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt. “For the first time, I used Facebook to livestream the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Hundreds of Sailors participated in the livestream, uniting themselves in prayer to God, for themselves and their families back home.
About 85% of the crew on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt were evacuated after many tested positive for COVID-19, so Father Bristol and the other chaplains onboard have created “inspirational talks for those in quarantine,” he said.
U.S. Navy chaplains are not the only ones who are livestreaming Mass. The priests at Peterson Air Force Base, and, until recently, Fort Carson, are also using Facebook Live to allow their Catholic community to gather together to worship virtually. Faithful from Fort Carson were even invited to email photos of themselves and their families to be placed on the pews on Easter Sunday in the chapel.
Creativity is not lacking for the chaplains at Veterans Affairs hospitals according to Father Tony Mensah, the chief chaplain at the James J. Peters Medical Center in New York, NY.
“We have a CCTV that we broadcast to the patients’ rooms,” he said. “So, we maintain our daily Mass so that they can turn on the T.V. and watch it throughout the week, except on Saturdays and some Fridays when we do not have the staff.”
No matter where in the world our chaplains are, they all have a similar goal: to do their best to provide the sacraments and spiritual care, no matter the challenges.
“One of our core competencies is to provide and perform, and so that’s what we’re doing—providing and performing for our people,” Father Irizarry said. “[Our faithful] really have a Christian heart, and they really long to receive the sacraments; that is their spiritual nourishment.”