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Pastoral carers like prison and hospital chaplains relish Zoom sessions to keep ministry alive

Pastoral care: “We wanted to continue the routine formation opportunities that we would normally present face to face.”

PRISON chaplains and hospital pastoral carers are doing their best to keep their ministries alive despite being kept away from prisoners and patients because of COVID-19.

Brisbane archdiocese’s Centacare Pastoral Ministries director Judy Norris said chaplains were unable to visit prisons and most of Centacare’s pastoral carers have had to withdraw from hospitals, leaving only a skeleton team allowed limited activity.

“Because of that, and because pastoral carers with Catholic Psychiatric Pastoral Care often join in the usual formation opportunities (at this time), we decided to provide a series of webinars,” Mrs Norris.

She said the idea was “to keep in touch with our nearly 200 volunteers, and to nurture them and give them something to be a part of together every week”.

“We wanted to continue the routine formation opportunities that we would normally present face to face,” she said.

“We didn’t want to just close down and say, ‘Alright, well, we’ll see you on the other side of COVID-19’.

“We wanted to stay in touch and stay connected.”

Through its webinars, Centacare Pastoral Ministries has been the most prolific user of Zoom video conferencing tool in Brisbane archdiocese in the past month, attracting more than 60, and sometimes more than 75, participants .

Brisbane spiritual director Patrick Oliver and Centacare Mission and Formation director Fr John Chalmers have conducted the Friday webinars.

Prison and hospital chaplains from Rockhampton, Townsville and Cairns dioceses have been among the participants.

Mrs Norris said part of the appeal was that “people don’t have to leave their homes, people don’t have to travel, people can just Zoom in, and it’s just working so well”.

She said hospital pastoral care trainees whose practical placements in hospitals had come to an abrupt end because of COVID-19 had also been able to resume their training via Zoom.

“It’s so wonderful to be gathering them again, and they’re delighted, so they’re not losing energy about this commitment they’re making,” Mrs Norris said.

Prison chaplains have resumed monthly meetings via Zoom.

Centacare has a skeleton crew of pastoral carers at Gold Coast, Robina, The Wesley, Prince Charles and Queensland Children’s Hospitals but ministry is restricted.

“All the hospitals are different,” Mrs Norris said. “Some of them are well set up for audio communication with the wards; others aren’t.

“The (pastoral carers) are a presence in the hospitals, mainly talking to staff, and, just simply being there as a Catholic presence, they can communicate with the priest or (advise on) whatever needs to happen.

“They’re highly valued just by their presence there. Even the staff are saying things like, ‘It’s just so lovely you’re still here’ …”

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