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Ethnic community chaplains say people are praying more despite no access to church

Praying at home: “The good thing is with all these restrictions and lockdown, maybe it’s grace, but people have started praying from home, along with the whole community.”

WHEN Fr Varghese Vavolil prepares to say his daily Mass in self-isolation, the first thing he does is switch on his computer.

The Syro-Malabar priest serving Indian Catholics in Ipswich and the Gold Coast has been streaming his daily Masses on Zoom since the closure of churches in Brisbane.

The idea came from his parishioners, who were “desperate” to have any connection with the Eucharist.

An impressive 50 to 60 people connect to his Zoom Masses every day.

“People are desperate,” Fr Vavolil said.

“The good thing is with all these restrictions and lockdown, maybe it’s grace, but people have started praying from home, along with the whole community.

“They pray more than any other time, that’s what I have seen.”

During Easter, Fr Vavolil and his fellow Syro-Malabar priests in south Brisbane and north Brisbane streamed their Triduum liturgies online.

“Almost everyone had more than 1500 attend each one,” Fr Vavolil said.

Even children aren’t off the hook from their spiritual duties, with the Syro-Malabar community looking to run their Sunday Catechesis school online.

“We have 460 children in catechesis,” Fr Vavolil.

“We don’t want to give a holiday for all these children…”

The digital connection to the community and particularly the Eucharist was well needed, Fr Vavolil said.

Many Indian Catholics have lost their jobs in the pandemic, and visitors on temporary visas including international students are living in a constant state of anxiety.

“They don’t have any job, they can’t get any more job because nobody has open their business or anything, and some of them find difficulty in bringing money from overseas as well,” Fr Vavolil said.

And what is meant to be a time of great joy at Easter was a time of immense pain for one of Fr Vavolil’s parishioners who lost their father on Easter Saturday.

Border lockdowns means the parishioner won’t be able to attend the funeral.

“It’s a very, very difficult time but there is still hope for people,” Fr Vavolil said.

Over in Salisbury, Croatian community chaplain Fr Davor Dominovic is also live-streaming Masses for roughly 250 Catholics.

Its been weeks since the Croatian priest has seen his congregation, as he has chosen to self-isolate because he had flu-like symptoms for six weeks, resulting in a test for COVID-19.

He said he got flu-like symptoms after doing his annual Christmas house blessings for Croatians in Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

The annual ritual takes Fr Dominovic roughly 20 days to complete and exposed him to all sorts of temperature conditions.

He tested negative for the virus but is taking precautions to protect his parishioners.

This meant refusing to do Easter confessions, which he normally gives in people’s homes.

Instead, the only thing Fr Dominovic can do is pick up the phone and call his floc.

“I’m trying to stay connected by telephone, asking if they need something,” Fr Dominovic said.

“That’s what gives me more peace, they appreciate if you just call them.

“It is important for them because they’re religious and really important that the priest is near, because they’re aware there is no other way now.”

Fr Dominovic said many Croatian Catholics were from large families and older parishioners were being cared for by children and grandchildren.

“They take care of them, bring them food, bring whatever they need,” he said.

Archdiocese of Brisbane’s Centre for Multicultural Pastoral Care administration officer Percy Pamo Lawrence said cultural communities were doing what they could to keep the faith during this pandemic.

Ms Lawrence said live-stream Masses were being widely used among ethnic communities, and even lapsed Catholics from various ethnic backgrounds have started tuning in to Masses streamed on Facebook and other websites.

CMPC have compiled a full list of cultural communities offering live-streamed Masses for cultural communities available on their website http://multiculturalcare.org.au/diversity/faith-online/.

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