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Post-Pandemic Reflection Supported by Perseverance and Faith

After more than three years of pandemic, the U.S. government has declared the end of public health emergencies as of May 11, 2023.

At its peak, COVID-19 left a trail of sickness and death around the world, it disrupted lives in ways large and small, and in the Diocese of Allentown, it had a significant effect on school routines and on Mass attendance.

Joe Shadid clearly remembers those frightening days when the virus was threatening vulnerable people. He took swift action to limit the impact at Holy Family Manor, the skilled nursing and rehabilitation center in Bethlehem which is a ministry of the Diocese of Allentown.

“Early in the pandemic, there was a lot of fear – among our residents, and their families, and among our staff,” said Shadid, the Chief Executive Officer of Holy Family Senior Living. “I knew we were facing a crisis. So the first thing I did was head to our chapel for a prayer.”

Shadid and his leadership team mobilized the staff, closed the facility to visitors, set up a COVID isolation wing, and scrambled to get basic supplies like masks, gloves, and virus test kits.

“Everyone here was resilient, and they improvised and adapted,” he said. “We are a Catholic-run facility, and there is a strong compassion and faith, and a strong desire to help people, and that certainly helped.”

By the time the virus eased and the facility reopened to visitors, Shadid said, two residents had died of COVID-19, although those were people who were dying from another cause and were already on hospice care. All others at the facility who contracted the virus recovered.

Looking back on the pandemic and its impacts, no one seeing those first news reports in December 2019 about a mysterious disease could have predicted that it would last more than three years. The coronavirus spread rapidly, and by March 2020, the World Health Organization had declared a pandemic.

That same month, to keep people safe, Bishop Alfred Schlert joined the other bishops of Pennsylvania in lifting the obligation to attend Mass, and later that same month, in suspending public participation in Mass.

Bishop Schlert also directed that church buildings would remain open for private prayer and that sacraments would still be available during the pandemic. Meanwhile, diocesan schools shifted to remote learning.

As parishes geared up their online Mass offerings, Bishop Schlert began livestreaming his morning Mass in his private chapel, and would continue doing so – preaching directly to the faithful watching on AD Today, on YouTube, and on Facebook — for 88 straight days.

About 10 weeks after the suspension of public participation, Masses around the Diocese were reopened to the public. Diocesan schools became leaders in the education community in returning to in-person learning long before some other schools did so.

The obligation for Catholics to attend Mass on the weekend was restored by Pennsylvania bishops in August 2021.

Unfortunately, the pandemic had a longer-term effect on church attendance. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans participating in religious services is slightly lower than it was before COVID-19.

During a Jubilee Year that celebrated the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – the Diocese also celebrated people of the Diocese once again being able to be really present at Mass as the pandemic eased.

The Year of the Real Presence coincided with the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Allentown by Pope Saint John XXIII. It began on Divine Mercy Sunday on April 11, 2021, and came to a close on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, June 19, 2022.

Photo: Joe Shadid in the chapel of Holy Family Manor
Originally appeared in AD Today here.