The coronavirus pandemic has often been painful, particularly for people who lost loved ones during the year. With attendance at funerals limited to only a handful of people, families were in some ways denied the support from friends that could ease their pain and give their loved ones a fitting goodbye.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Father Davis Chackaleckel, MSFS, who started his assignment as pastor of St. Stephen Catholic Community in Old Hickory in the midst of the pandemic.
The families struggling with their grief reminded him of Calvary where Jesus too died with only Mary, Mary Magdalene and John there with him at the end. In the pandemic people were sharing in the death of Christ, Father Davis said.
“It’s something I was struggling with,” he said.
But during a conference a speaker suggested a solution. Noting that a lot of people had died during the pandemic, the speaker said parishes should remember them, Father Davis said.
On Saturday, May 22, St. Stephen celebrated a Memorial Mass for all its parishioners and family and friends of parishioners who had died during the pandemic. The Mass was also livestreamed on the parish Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ststephencatholiccommunitytn.
Parish staff asked parishioners for the names of people who had died and a photograph of them. In the end, there was a list of 129 people.
“This will send a message to families that the Church is remembering them,” Father Davis said.
“You may be angry at the pandemic, angry at so many things,” Father Davis said in his homily for the Memorial Mass. “You may be asking why is this happening? You may not have any answers.
“Jesus is the answer,” he said. “Remember, Jesus is walking with you.”
Stephen Aud served as a lector at the Mass and to remember his teen-age daughter Rosemary who died last November.
Aud, his wife Trish, and their children Benjamin and Abigail, were one of the rare families during the pandemic who didn’t have to bury their daughter, son, father, mother, or friend alone.
“It was a beautiful funeral,” Aud said. “You never felt so much love. … Even in the middle of COVID the church was full.”
Aud was surprised at the outpouring of love and support. “We’re so grateful.”
He wanted to participate in the Memorial Mass “to remember our daughter and the others in our community.”
“I’m grateful that Theresa (Bradley, the head of the parish’s Funeral and Bereavement Ministry) and our priests were able to do this,” Aud said.
The Memorial Mass is another step for the parish community to come back together as the pandemic eases. “During the pandemic, the world has cocooned itself,” Aud said. “You can feel that the community wants to come back together. You feel the pent-up desire.”
“They want to be there. At the same time, you have to be worried,” Aud said. “Will everyone come back? Has it been too long?”
“We are not walking toward normalcy,” Father Davis said. “We are limping. We are limping toward normalcy.”
But the parish will be working hard to invite people back to the church, Father Davis said. The Memorial Mass is one step in that effort and the parish fall festival will be another, he said.