VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just a few days after the Vatican summit on child protection…
COVID can’t stop religious orders’ mission to welcome, serve
Across the nation, and around the world, Catholic hospitality centers of various types have been confronted with how to minister to the needs of the most vulnerable in our society during the COVID-19 pandemic. Various restrictions imposed by state and local governments — and implemented to the best of their abilities by dioceses and religious orders — have limited the centers’ ability to provide services to those most in need.
But the religious orders that run these organizations remain undaunted. These hospitality centers — retreat centers, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, homes for single mothers, etc. — exist because of Our Lord’s call in Matthew 25 to clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, feed the hungry and more. Many have made this Gospel call their life’s work, and while the pandemic has made their mission more difficult, it will not stop them from doing this important work.
Capuchin Soup Kitchen
The Franciscan order is well-known for its focus on care for the poor, and hospitality is one of the six core values at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit.
“Hospitality is a hallmark of the Franciscan charism,” said Brother Bob Malloy, director of pastoral care at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. This is the heart of the work they do, and COVID-related restrictions have not prevented them from continuing their important work.
“With the COVID-19 adjustments we have to make, it requires more creativity to practice hospitality,” Brother Bob said. “The smile, the handshake or hug, the close ear to hear another’s story, pain, wishes, etc., are sabotaged with the mask and social distancing — needed and impairing at the same time.”
The Capuchin Soup Kitchen emphasizes the welcoming of guests with “joyful service,” which is another of their core values. The hospitality centers run by the Capuchins are places of safety and comfort where people can gather, eat, laugh and visit with friends, Brother Bob said. “But with the restrictions imposed by the virus, we have to curtail a lot of that, especially the human touch, which means so much.”
While following social distancing protocols and conducting meetings virtually, they have been able to continue offering such services as social work and chaplaincy. “Some of us meet with guests outdoors to keep the safe distance while we welcome and accommodate guests as best we can,” Brother Bob said.
The staff is continuing to make whatever changes they can in order to bring guests back inside their facilities. With the coming cooler weather in Detroit, this is a growing priority.
“We are just beginning this phase, and hope that in the future, as researchers progress with the development of a vaccine, we can lighten up on restrictions that will allow us to feel more normal once again and let down some of the unnatural barriers to the hospitality that we desire to demonstrate,” Brother Bob said. “We live in hope.”
“In every way possible, we seek to welcome people who are in need and serve them as we can during this difficult time.”
Mount Angel Abbey
The Saint Benedict Guesthouse and Retreat Center at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon is primarily a place where the monks of the monastery welcome others into the life of the community, according to Benedictine Father Pius X Harding, the guestmaster.
“At the heart of the monastic life is union with God and the daily singing of his praises,” Father Harding said. “So, the guesthouse is a place to come in order to encounter God through liturgical prayer and the shared life of Christian community.”
The guesthouse hosts private and group retreats, often led by the monks. It is also where family and friends of monks and seminarians stay when they come to visit, as well as bishops and vocation directors from the dioceses served by the seminary.
The “hilltop” in Mount Angel is home to the abbey, the guesthouse and a large seminary that serves 23 dioceses and archdioceses. The COVID-19 pandemic brought severe limitations to the monks’ ability to serve their community.
Because of concern for the vulnerable members of the community, the abbey strictly controlled access to its buildings for about three months during the height of the pandemic. The guesthouse was closed as part of these precautions, but it is now operating at a limited capacity, with certain restrictions and alternative practices in place.
“Many large groups cancelled their activities here through the winter months, but many individuals and small groups are taking their spaces,” Father Harding said. “The typical reaction when people find out that we are open and receiving guests is one of thanksgiving; many people are so happy to practice their faith in community once again!”
The guesthouse is still not at full capacity, even though Oregon has had some of the lowest incidents of COVID-19 in the nation. “Only God and state and county health officials know” when they will be back to normal, Father Harding said. “In the meantime, we try to fulfill St. Benedict’s admonition in the Holy Rule to ‘receive all guests as Christ.'” St. Benedict once said that monasteries would never be without guests, and that the monks should show particular care for the poor.
“Right now, the work of hospitality is particularly important, as many souls feel isolated by pandemic restrictions, and even alienated by social and political strife,” Father Harding said. “Now is a good time to pray, and a monastery is a great place to pray together.”
Paul Senz writes from Oregon.