JPII grad Jake Rucker selected in MLB draft

Jake Rucker, a 2018 graduate of Pope John Paul II Preparatory Academy, prepares to make a throw while playing for the University of Tennessee. Rucker was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 2021 Major League Baseball draft. This is the third year in a row that a JPII grad has been selected in the MLB draft.  Photo By Caleb Jones/Tennessee Athletics

Jake Rucker’s baseball career has taken him to many places, from Williamsport to Knoxville to Omaha. Now there is a new destination: Minneapolis.  

Rucker, a 2018 graduate of Pope John Paul II High School – now known as Pope John Paul II Preparatory Academy – was drafted in the seventh round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Minnesota Twins. He was the 219th pick overall.  

His selection in the draft completes an incredible junior year for the University of Tennessee Volunteers. Rucker started 67 games for the Vols this year at third base, batting .330 and leading the team in hits with 90. He also set career highs in at-bats (273), runs (48), doubles (21), home runs (nine), RBI (55), total bases (142), walks (27) and stolen bases (7).  

Rucker, who started as a true freshman at UT, this year was named first team All-SEC, first team all-Southeast Region, and third team All-American. 

Rucker also helped lead the Vols to their fifth ever College World Series appearance, and first since 2005. It was his first World Series appearance since 2012, when his Goodlettsville team advanced to the finals of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  

“The College World Series was a great experience because all our hard work paid off,” Rucker said. “It was great to see the fanbase supporting us, and the field was beautiful. But it wasn’t nearly as cool as the Little League World Series, because I was 12 then, so playing in front of 50,000 people made you feel like a celebrity.” 

Rucker points to three things that have driven him to reach this point: faith, family, and hard work.  

“I just can’t thank God enough,” Rucker said. “I was following His plan and waiting for a phone call.”  

Faith holds a central role in his preparation and outlook on baseball. Rucker uses the Bible as an anchor to center his mind on game days.  

“It’s actually something I developed on my own in college. I needed something to do with all that free time,” he said. “I felt like I got a calling to be able to get back into the Word and share my experiences. Reading the Bible also gets me in a calm place to just have fun and do it all for the Lord.”  

Jake credits his mother, Jill Rucker, with developing his faith. They are parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes in Springfield, where Jill taught religious education for first, third, and fourth grade for nine years. Jake was an altar server and also helped out with the first grade class.  

“He’s always been kind to others, willing to help at home, school, church, and a leader on any baseball team he played on,” Mrs. Rucker said.  

Jake emphasized her help in developing that leadership mentality, however. “She always got on to my brother Carson and I about going to church every Sunday and being the best person you can be,” he said. “I can’t thank her enough for helping me become mature enough to understand the Bible, stay in the faith, and stay positive.” 

Rucker graduated from Pope Prep in 2018, and he thanked Coach Chris Parker and the program there with giving him the foundation for success at the next level and beyond.  

“JPII has always been known for baseball, it’s kind of why I went there,” Rucker said. “It’s a very successful program, and Coach Parker is always successful and a winner. He knows everyone and wants to coach everyone he can. Having his knowledge definitely helped me and Mason (Hickman),” who helped lead the Vanderbilt Commodores to the national championship in 2019.  

Parker was just as effusive in his praise of Rucker. 

“I think the number one thing he carries is that he’s a young man with very high character. Just a great kid,” Parker said of Rucker. “I called him to congratulate him on being drafted, and all he wanted to talk about was my son and his baseball endeavors. Not a lot of kids would do that.  

“He’s a family-centered person, and that’s a big tribute to Mr. (Andrew) and Ms. Rucker,” Parker said. “Very humble young man. All he knows is that he gets a chance to keep playing baseball, and now he gets paid to do it.” 

This year was the third straight that a Pope Prep grad was selected in the MLB draft, with Rucker following Mason Hickman in 2020, drafted by the Cleveland Indians, and Whit Drennan in 2019, drafted by the Houston Astros. All three played together on the Pope Prep varsity in 2015, then coached by Michael Brown, when Drennan was a senior, Hickman a sophomore and Rucker a freshman. 

“I think we have some kids with good ability,” Parker said. “The work ethic we teach them here in class and on the field helps them rise above. … We teach them to work hard, and that nothing comes easy. Those are two things you learn at JPII, and you take them to college and things are going to be easy.”  

Rucker is headed to Fort Meyers, Florida, to begin his professional baseball career with the Twins’ single-A affiliate Mighty Mussels. He hopes to spend a short time there before heading to Iowa to join the Cedar Rapids Kernels. 

Pope calls for prayers for forgiveness, coexistence in Holy Land

A Palestinian woman reacts after returning to her destroyed house in Gaza May 21, 2021, following the Israel-Hamas truce. The May 21 truce followed more than a week of fighting that claimed hundreds of lives. CNS photo/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, Reuters

VATICAN CITY. Pope Francis has called on the world’s Catholics to pray May 22 for dialogue, forgiveness and peaceful coexistence in the Holy Land.

As local Catholics were set to gather at St. Stephen’s Church in Jerusalem May 22 to “implore the gift of peace” on the vigil of Pentecost, the pope asked “all the pastors and faithful of the Catholic Church to unite themselves spiritually with this prayer.”

“May every community pray to the Holy Spirit ‘that Israelis and Palestinians may find the path of dialogue and forgiveness, be patient builders of peace and justice, and be open, step by step, to a common hope, to coexistence among brothers and sisters,’” he said, quoting remarks he made May 16.

The pope’s comments came May 21 as he welcomed nine new ambassadors to the Vatican who were presenting their letters of credential.

He told the diplomats that he could not help but think of the events unfolding in the Holy Land.

“I thank God for the decision to halt the armed conflicts and acts of violence, and I pray for the pursuit of paths of dialogue and peace,” he told the diplomats.

The pope’s remarks came the same day Israel and Hamas were to begin a cease-fire after days of airstrikes, rocket attacks and fighting that claimed hundreds of lives.

In this most deadly violence since 2014, at least 230 Palestinians – including 65 children – have been reported killed, and thousands injured. Israel reported 12 Israelis, including two children, killed.

Parishes welcome more people back to church for Holy Week, Easter

An usher at St. Henry Church in Nashville distributes palms to parishioners before the start of Mass on Palm
Sunday, March 28. About 600 people attended the 11 a.m. outdoor Mass at St. Henry that day, the first day that
Bishop J. Mark Spalding restored the obligation to attend Mass in the Diocese of Nashville. According to St. Henry
pastor Father Mark Beckman, the outdoor Masses are popular, and attendance had increased in recent weeks. For
more photos, visit tennesseeregister.com
. Photo by Theresa Laurence

Parishes across the Diocese of Nashville welcomed more people back to church on Palm Sunday, the first day that Bishop J. Mark Spalding restored the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. 

At parishes large and small, indoors and out, people gathered for Mass on March 28, eager to experience the first Holy Week liturgy together in person. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year, all churches were closed during Holy Week; liturgies were livestreamed as priests celebrated them in private. 

For Palm Sunday 2021, church communities were able to celebrate together again. Some added extra Masses for the day and planned for overflow seating. 

About 600 people gathered at St. Henry Church in Nashville for the 11 a.m. outdoor Mass on Palm Sunday. After a long night of thunderstorms in the area, Sunday, March 28, dawned bright and windy. Parishioners popped their trunks, set up their folding chairs and blankets and took their seats for the Mass, celebrated by pastor Father Mark Beckman.  

“This is truly a powerful and beautiful way to start off Holy Week,” Father Beckman said at the conclusion of Mass, noting that last year, he had to celebrate Holy Week liturgies with only a handful of people, livestreaming to parishioners because churches were shuttered.  

Attendance at the outdoor Masses at St. Henry “have been building for a while but this was the biggest crowd I’ve seen in a while,” said Father Beckman. 

“It’s so good to see so many of you here for Palm Sunday,” he added.  

St. Henry is planning to host most of its Holy Week liturgies outdoors as weather allows and is asking people to make an online reservation for indoor services. For the first time this year, St. Henry will host a 6:30 a.m. sunrise service on Easter morning to accommodate more people returning to Mass.  

With beautiful weather predicted for Easter, Father Beckman expects the attendance to be “record breaking” for the outdoor Masses.  

St. Henry will continue to livestream Masses every Sunday and will continue to require face coverings and distancing for indoor Masses. 

“The full transition back to ‘normal’ will take some time,” Father Beckman wrote in a letter to parishioners. Quoting Bishop Spalding, Father Beckman reminded that: “The law of the Church envisions situations where the obligation does not apply because of grave cause; any serious or ongoing risks and concerns you might have about coronavirus can certainly constitute a grave cause.” 

Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Springfield celebrated Palm Sunday on March 28, the day the dispensation from the
obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days had been lifted. About 150 people attended the English Mass
at 10:30 a.m., which was the typical attendance for that Mass in recent weeks. Father Anthony Lopez distributes
palms during the Mass.
Photo by Andy Telli

At Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Springfield, the crowds for Sunday Masses had already been building before Bishop Spalding restored the obligation to attend Mass. 

The approximately 150 people who attended the Palm Sunday 10:30 a.m. Mass in English was typical for that Mass, said Father Anthony Lopez, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes. “It was maybe a little more because it was Palm Sunday,” he said. 

“We’ve had people returning for a while now,” Father Lopez added. 

“As more and more get vaccinated, more and more will feel safe to come,” Father Lopez said. “It gives them the assurance of safety.” 

The church can hold about 300 people, Father Lopez said. “That’s packing them in, which during our Spanish Mass, we do.” 

The Hispanic community at the parish has grown so much in recent years that the parish had added a second Spanish Mass before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Father Lopez said. 

For Palm Sunday, the parish opened all the pews in the church, but continued to check people’s temperatures as they arrived. Masks were optional, but nearly everyone was wearing one, Father Lopez noted. Hand sanitizer also was available, and the parish will continue to livestream its Masses. 

The same protocols will be in place for the Holy Week liturgies, Father Lopez said. “We want them to feel safe. We want them to feel secure. But they need the bread of life.” 

Deacon Mike Morris expects the crowds to be bigger during Holy Week, particularly for the Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday. 

For Deacon Morris, Palm Sunday was the first time he had been at Mass since August. “I’ve been a diabetic for 50 years. My doctor didn’t think it would be a good idea” to be with the crowds at Mass, he said. 

Now that he has been fully vaccinated, Deacon Morris felt safe to return. 

“I’ve been truly anxious to get back. There’s nothing like it,” he said. “Today for me felt like a rebirth.” 

Pope arrives in Iraq, promoting peace, tolerance, equality

BAGHDAD (CNS) — To consolidate peace and ensure progress, the government and people of Iraq must never treat anyone as a second-class citizen and must work each day to promote harmony, Pope Francis said.

“Fraternal coexistence calls for patient and honest dialogue, protected by justice and by respect for law,” he said March 5, addressing Iraqi President Barham Salih, other government leaders and diplomats serving in Iraq.

The appointment with civic and cultural leaders at the presidential palace in Baghdad came shortly after the pope landed in Iraq for his first foreign trip in 15 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although he, his entire entourage and the journalists traveling with him had all been vaccinated against the coronavirus, they all wore masks during the four-hour flight from Rome.

Lowering his mask briefly to address reporters, he said he felt a “duty” to visit the Middle Eastern country, which had experienced so much death and turmoil since the 2003 invasion by a U.S.-led coalition. He put his mask back on to make his way around the plane and personally greet each member of the media.

The pope held a brief meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in a lounge at the Baghdad airport before heading into the city under tight security.

Pope Francis receives flowers from children during a welcoming ceremony with Iraqi President Barham Salih at the presidential palace in Baghdad March 5, 2021.
CNS photo/Vatican Media

Outside the airport, in five or six large groups along the highway, hundreds of Iraqis waved Vatican or Iraqi flags as the pope passed. Forced to use a bullet-proof car, the pope rode to the presidential palace in a black BMW 750i; the sedan was flanked most of the way by security officials on motorcycles, but as the motorcade neared the palace, it was accompanied by officers on horseback.

The president welcomed Pope Francis as a “great and dear guest,” expressing his gratitude that the pope made the trip “despite recommendations to postpone the visit because of the exceptional circumstances the world is going through because of the pandemic and despite the difficult conditions that our wounded nation is going through” with sporadic waves of violence.

Facing those dangers and visiting anyway “in reality doubles the value of your visit in the eyes of Iraqis,” the president told the pope.

His first speech of the trip, the pope outlined the themes expected to resonate throughout the March 5-8 visit: paying homage to the Christians martyred by Islamic militants over the past 20 years; insisting belief in one God, the father of all, means all people are brothers and sisters; encouraging a continued commitment to rebuilding the physical and social fabric of the country, including with international aid; and condemning all recourse to violence.

Repeating a phrase he used in a video message to the Iraqi people on the eve of his visit, Pope Francis told the civic authorities, “I come as a penitent, asking forgiveness of heaven and my brothers and sisters for so much destruction and cruelty. I come as a pilgrim of peace in the name of Christ, the prince of peace.”

“May the clash of arms be silenced! May their spread be curbed, here and everywhere,” the pope said. “May the voice of builders and peacemakers find a hearing! The voice of the humble, the poor, the ordinary men and women who want to live, work and pray in peace.”

“May there be an end to acts of violence and extremism, factions and intolerance,” Pope Francis urged. “May room be made for all those citizens who seek to cooperate in building up this country through dialogue and through frank, sincere and constructive discussion — citizens committed to reconciliation and prepared, for the common good, to set aside their own interests.”

Pope Francis acknowledge how Iraqis have dedicated themselves to the difficult task of building a democracy. For further progress toward that goal, he said, “it is essential to ensure the participation of all political, social and religious groups and to guarantee the fundamental rights of all citizens.”

In fact, the country’s dwindling Christian minority is not the only group that repeatedly has been denied its basic rights; Kurds, Yazidis and Mandaeans all have faced discrimination and even persecution. Under Saddam Hussein, even the Shiite Muslim majority was marginalized in many ways.

Even though he was speaking to secular leaders, Pope Francis could not fail to mention the special suffering of the Christian community, advocate for their rights and promise that they, too, would use their talents and skills to build up the nation.

Condemning violence “grounded in a fundamentalism incapable of accepting the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups,” the pope urged Iraqis to strive to be a model of dialogue and harmony for the rest of the region.

Salih told the pope that, too often in the modern world, “opposition and polarization” are the order of the day, and people, “especially in the East, are losing the habit of pluralism, diversity and accepting the opinion of the other.”

Such an attitude, he said, “increases terrorism and the incitement to violence, hatred and committing atrocities with pretexts that have nothing to do with the tolerant spirit of the divine message. This threatens our entire future.”

Pope Francis agreed.

“Only if we learn to look beyond our differences and see each other as members of the same human family will we be able to begin an effective process of rebuilding and leave to future generations a better, more just and more humane world,” he said.

Religion, he insisted, “must be at the service of peace and fraternity.”

40-hour Adoration to pray for priests is planned for March 12-14

St. Ann Church in Nashville will host a 40-hour Adoration for the priests of the Diocese of Nashville on March 12-14. During the 40 hours, the Blessed Sacrament will be held on a special altar called a machine.

People are invited to offer prayers for the priests of the Diocese of Nashville during a 40-hour Adoration to be held March 12-14 at St. Ann Church in Nashville.

The parish is hosting the devotion to support priests as part of its centennial celebration, marking 100 years since its founding.

The 40-hour Adoration will be held in the side chapel of St. Ann. Because space is limited to five people at a time, organizers are asking people to sign up to spend an hour in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

“This is a safe way to come and worship and pray for our priests,” said Meghan Guilfoil, one of the organizers.

To sign up, people can visit www.saintannparish.com/vac.

People are invited to write a letter expressing their gratitude and support for the priests, and the letters will be collected and delivered later, Guilfoil said.

Organizers of the event, which includes St. Ann’s young adult group and the Nashville Chapter of Regnum Christi, which meets at St. Ann monthly, are reaching out to other groups in the parish and the diocese to invite them to participate. “It became a neat way to pull people together in the parish and from across the diocese,” Guilfoil said. 

The Hispanic community at St. Ann has offered to build a special altar for the monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament during the 40-hour Adoration, called a machine, and other groups in the parish have agreed to provide guardians to stay with the Eucharist during the overnight hours, Guilfoil said.

The 40-hour adoration will open on Friday, March 12, after the Stations of the Cross, which are held each Friday at 5:30 p.m. There will be a Solemn Mass of Exposition at 6:30 p.m., which concludes with the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and a procession. The adoration will close with a Mass of Reposition at 11 a.m. Sunday, concluding with a procession, benediction and final reposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Guilfoil said.

The organizers of the 40-hour Adoration will also provide take-out meals for priests on St. Patrick’s Day, Wednesday, March 17, in appreciation for their service and vocation. The priests will be able to pick up a meal of corned beef brisket, cabbage, potatoes, rye bread, and homemade pie between 6 and 7:30 p.m. in Breen Hall at St. Ann.

If priests can’t come to St. Ann, organizers will deliver a meal to them, Guilfoil said.

Review of accounts at Cathedral uncovers misappropriation of $117,000

A recent review of parish accounts at the Cathedral of the Incarnation discovered that approximately $117,000 was misappropriated through numerous unauthorized transactions since 2015.

“The employee involved in the transactions is no longer employed by the parish,” Father Eric Fowlkes, pastor of the Cathedral, and George H. Schultz, chair of the Parish Finance Council, wrote in a Jan. 12 letter to Cathedral parishioners. “The parish will seek repayment from the former employee.

“The Catholic Mutual Group, which provides our insurance coverage, has been notified and there may be opportunities to recover funds not repaid through insurance,” the letter stated. “As part of their process, Catholic Mutual requires notifying appropriate civil authorities. We will cooperate fully with any investigation that may occur.”

Father Fowlkes became pastor of the Cathedral in the summer of 2020. “The scheduled review of parish accounts by the Diocese of Nashville staff, which followed the recent appointment of a new pastor here at the Cathedral, revealed numerous unauthorized financial transactions within the parish business office,” according to the letter. “A Certified Public Accountant from the finance office at the diocese assisted us in conducting an investigation that showed approximately $117,000 in parish funds have been used for personal benefit since 2015 without proper authorization and were misappropriated.”

“With assistance from the diocese, interim measures have been put in place in the parish business office and we will be hiring staff in the near future,” Father Fowlkes and Schultz said in the letter. “Additionally, audit and financial controls will be established to avoid similar occurrences going forward. The Parish Finance Council will review the diocese’s report on our accounting system and assist in implementing their recommendations.

“We will keep the parish informed as more is learned about the financial impact of the loss and any recoveries of funds,” they added.

The letter concludes, “Please keep everyone involved in this matter in your prayers.”

Pope’s pandemic year in review: Prayer, online meetings, hopes for change

Pope Francis prays in front of the “Miraculous Crucifix” from the Church of St. Marcellus in Rome during a prayer service in an empty St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in this March 27, 2020, file photo. With COVID-19 already a crisis around the globe, the pope’s prayer service that night drew the world’s attention. CNS photo/Vatican Media

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Like everyone else, Pope Francis’ 2020 was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lockdowns, livestreamed Masses, video messages and even something akin to Zoom meetings became a regular part of his life, just like for millions of people around the world.

But when he walked alone into St. Peter’s Square March 27 for an “extraordinary moment of prayer,” Pope Francis was unlike anyone else.

Standing in the rain, he articulated the world’s suffering.

And before blessing the city and the world with the Blessed Sacrament, he began what would become months of pleading with people to use the crisis as an opportunity to rethink the way they treat their neighbors and the way they decide what and how much to buy, as well as to ask themselves larger questions about ways to make the global economy more fair and more respectful of the environment.

The year began normally enough. Italy’s severe lockdown went into effect less than three weeks after the 15th and final group of U.S. bishops made their weeklong “ad limina” visits to Rome to pray at the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul, to meet Vatican officials and to spend more than two hours in a freewheeling conversation with Pope Francis.

Pope Francis told members of each group that a bishop must be close to God, close to his priests and close to his people. And, part of the way through the “ad liminas,” he began talking about the importance of bishops being close to one another. Several bishops said the admonition was a recognition of how election-year political divisions in the U.S. risked dividing U.S. Catholics as well.

The topics in the “ad limina” conversations with the pope included: the clerical sexual abuse scandal; youth and young adult ministry; being joyful witnesses of the Gospel; creating a more welcoming environment for migrants and refugees; abortion and the sanctity of all human life; racism; safeguarding the environment; the growing Spanish-speaking Catholic population; and the importance of Catholic schools.

And, repeatedly, U.S. bishops asked the pope to release, as promised, a report on how Theodore E. McCarrick managed to rise to the position of cardinal and archbishop of Washington despite decades of rumors of sexual misconduct. The report finally was released Nov. 10.

Also in the pre-pandemic period, Pope Francis released “Querida Amazonia,” his apostolic exhortation reflecting on themes discussed during the 2019 Synod of Bishops for the Amazon. Some people were hoping or fearing that he would mention the idea of ordaining married men to the priesthood so that far-flung Catholic communities would have regular access to the Eucharist.

Instead, he focused on encouraging more missionaries to devote at least part of their lives to serving the communities and on efforts to ensure the rights of the region’s poor and indigenous are respected, local cultures are preserved, nature is protected, and the Catholic Church is present and active with “Amazonian features.”

While the pope said “Querida Amazonia” was his “dream” for that region of South America, his encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” addressed burning social, political and religious issues on a global scale and his dream for a world marked by greater solidarity and concern for the poor and the Earth.

Published Oct. 4, the encyclical insisted Christians, and all people of goodwill, must recognize that they are brothers and sisters and start living that way.

Doing that, he wrote, would mean recognizing and taking concrete action against “certain trends in our world that hinder the development of universal fraternity” and of acting as a neighbor to one another, including racism, extremism, “aggressive nationalism,” closing borders to migrants and refugees, polarization, politics as a power grab rather than a service to the common good, mistreatment of women, modern slavery and economic policies that allow the rich to get richer but do not create jobs and do not help the poor.

Pope Francis spent much of the year trying to get his own house in order, too.

On the first of the year, Jesuit Father Juan Antonio Guerrero began working as prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, a position that had been vacant since Australian Cardinal George Pell took a leave of absence in 2017 to fight charges of sexual abuse in his homeland.

In June, the pope approved new laws governing the awarding of Vatican contracts with rules designed to prevent fraud and corruption, including barring Vatican employees from awarding contracts to their relatives.

And, as questions continued over the Vatican’s massive financial loss in a property investment deal in London, in late September Pope Francis forced the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who had been instrumental in making the deal before being appointed prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes.

In November, after the Vatican Secretariat of State missed a papally imposed deadline to hand over the management and monitoring of its financial assets to two separate Vatican bodies, Pope Francis set up a commission to make the transfer and external oversight happen. The London property deal was made with funds from the Secretariat of State when Cardinal Becciu worked there.

Throughout the year, the pope and his international Council of Cardinals also continued working on the new constitution governing a reorganized Roman Curia; as the year ended, the council was reviewing suggested amendments.

As he has done every year since 2014, Pope Francis created new cardinals, adding 13 prelates — including Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington — to the College of Cardinals in a November ceremony.

Like everything else the previous nine months, the consistory was held with COVID-19 restrictions in place. Cardinals from outside the European Union were tested for the coronavirus and quarantined for 10 days before the ceremony. Each was allowed a maximum of 10 guests, though those who came from abroad had fewer. And the public reception to greet the new cardinals was canceled.

As the year was ending, the Vatican announced it would vaccinate all its residents and employees early in 2021 and that Pope Francis plans to travel to Iraq in March — both signs of hope that the pandemic’s days are numbered.

Parishes continue to safely welcome the faithful to Mass

Deacon Mike Rector blesses the congregation at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville with incense during a Mass celebrated outdoors last spring. Our Lady of the Lake is one of the churches in the Diocese of Nashville that has turned to outdoor Masses to accommodate larger crowds while still maintaining social distancing. Nashville Mayor John Cooper has issued a directive limiting private gatherings in Davidson County to no more than eight people or one other family. But the diocese’s policy concerning church-related gatherings, including implementing precautions to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, remains unchanged.
Tennessee Register file photo by Andy Telli

Nashville Mayor John Cooper has issued a directive asking Davidson County residents, as they head into Thanksgiving week, to limit all private gatherings to no more than eight people or one other family group.

But the directive won’t prevent churches in the Diocese of Nashville from continuing to celebrate Mass in person with the protective measures against the spread of the COVID-19 virus already in place.

“Our policy concerning church-related gatherings and activities, both liturgical and non-liturgical, remains unchanged,” Father John Hammond, Vicar General of the diocese, said in a message to pastors and other diocesan leaders. “Pastors and other leaders should continue to exercise thoughtful care concerning the various health and safety precautions which prudence demands at this time.”

Bishop J. Mark Spalding has given pastors the latitude “to personalize the way in which they enact our precautions in light of the particular circumstances of their own communities,” Father Hammond said. At the same time, the bishop has consistently encouraged them to continue to have people wear masks, wash or sanitize their hands frequently, and maintain social distancing.

“We have large spaces that are built to hold large numbers of people,” noted Father Hammond, who also serves as the Judicial Vicar for the diocese. Churches in the diocese have the room to maintain social distancing and other protective measures, as well as performing regular cleanings of the spaces where people gather, he added.

“We can continue to perform the mission of the Church while providing a safe space,” he said. 

Churches in the diocese have adopted a variety of measures to continue to serve the spiritual needs of their parishioners while maintaining safe spaces. Most have limited attendance to allow for social distancing, some have moved Masses outdoors to provide room for people to spread out, and many are livestreaming their Masses for people to watch at home. Churches have also added Masses during the week to accommodate people who are in high risk categories or don’t feel comfortable in larger gatherings.

“It’s worth saying again, the dispensation remains in place from the obligation to attend Mass, which allows people to make an adult and prudent decision based on their own health and comfort level,” Father Hammond said. “The bishop has encouraged people to be prudent and careful.”

The dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days has been put in place indefinitely.

“We are constantly reviewing and analyzing the situation and praying for the wisdom to maintain a prudent response to this situation,” Father Hammond said. “That’s always going on.”

Providing for the needs of their parishioners in a safe manner during the pandemic has been difficult for pastors, said Father Hammond, who also serves as pastor of St. Patrick Church in Nashville.

“On a fundamental level, we want to do the right thing,” Father Hammond said. “It’s all unchartered territory. We’re doing our best to do what’s prudent and also reasonable.”

Mayor Cooper’s “Rule of 8” directive took effect on Monday, Nov. 23. He issued the directive as a response to rising numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Nashville and across the state.

As of Thursday, Nov. 19, the number of new cases reported in Davidson County was more than five times as high as at any point in September, Cooper noted. Nashville hospitals were caring for 362 COVID-19 patients, Cooper said during his announcement. “That’s more than a 50 percent increase since Nov. 1,” he added.

Hospitalizations are expected to increase by 10 percent in the next week, Cooper said. “Nashville, this is the curve we must flatten.”

“With Thanksgiving a week away, we could be on the verge of a super spreader event if we are not careful,” Cooper said. “When we’re going to be in contact with loved ones, we must do it safely.”

“The Rule of 8 should be our guide as we head into the holiday season,” he said. “With the virus surging, now is not the time for any large gatherings.”

The Rule of 8 is in line with the current requirement that restaurants limit groupings to eight people, Cooper said. The mayor made a distinction between large gatherings of people in close proximity to each other and groupings of people in a venue large enough to provide for appropriate social distancing.

“I think there’s a difference between ‘groupings’ and ‘gatherings,’” Cooper said. “Even though the ‘gathering; may appear to be larger, you’re carefully managing the ‘groupings’ to limit the risk that already exists between these people.”

The directive only applies to Davidson County. Gov. Bill Lee has not issued a similar directive and has resisted issuing a statewide mask mandate. However, he has issued an executive order allowing county mayors in 89 of the state’s 95 counties to issue a mask mandate. In Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby and Sullivan counties, the local health departments also have the authority to issue mask mandates.

Forums foster dialogue on how pandemic affects faith practices

The restrictions put in place to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic have forced people to reconfigure nearly every facet of their lives: work, school, travel, staying in touch with family and friends.

Stotts

Jon Stotts, director of adult faith formation at Christ the King Church in Nashville, and Joan Watson, director of faith formation for the Diocese of Nashville, invited people from throughout the diocese to participate in a pair of online forums to discuss how the pandemic has changed their faith practices.

Stotts, who served as the moderator of the forums held May 19 and 21, posed the questions: How have we changed in quarantine as a community? And what would we do differently if this happened again?

“We started with the question of how do you think the Church has handled the crisis,” he said. By the end of the forum, he was hoping the participants would answer the question in terms of “we” instead of “they.”

“The purpose of the forum was helping us to take ownership of the Church and taking responsibility within it,” he added.

“It’s important to have a distinct sense of the power of the laity,” Stotts said.

“In general, I think there was a real positive sense on the part of the participants in both sessions,” Stotts said. “People felt a gratitude for the efforts that were done, while still acknowledging they could improve going forward.”

The pandemic has opened people’s eyes to ways the Church could reach out and engage more people, Stotts said.

“The biggest thing about quarantine besides the health risk is a feeling of loneliness,” Stotts said. “That’s what parishes are for, to demonstrate that we are the Body of Christ and that we are not alone.”

When public gatherings were limited and the public celebration of Mass was suspended because of the pandemic, the staff at Christ the King considered what they could offer parishioners that they couldn’t get elsewhere, Stotts said.

“What we came up with was the wisdom and comfort of our priests, material resources, and opportunities to connect,” Stotts said.

So the parish started posting online videos of the parish priests and Stotts reflecting on the Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday. The parish also started hosting online meetings for parish groups, like the Knights of Columbus, the Boy Scouts and others, Stotts said.

“The other piece is to give people an opportunity to talk with each other,” he said. “There’s plenty of online content with people telling you stuff.”

“It is all about helping people to feel connected to one another,” Stotts said.

That idea led to using video conferencing for the parish’s regular Sunday morning adult education classes so they could continue their discussions of a variety of topics, Stotts said. Those online sessions became the framework for the diocesan-wide online forums.

The Church’s efforts to connect with the faithful during the pandemic don’t have to end with the pandemic, Stotts said.

“Isolation isn’t something that belongs to quarantine,” Stotts explained.

During the diocesan forums, “There was a lot of hope that parishes would continue to use these technologies even if not everybody needs them” as they do during the pandemic, he added.

But people recognized technology has limits, Stotts said. “I don’t think people are so disconnected from their bodies that they would be happy to livestream Mass only and not come to a live Mass even after the pandemic.”

People still want to come together physically to share in the Eucharist, he said.