Several bishops lauded the sacrifice made by both priests and laity in responding to the pandemic and working to make church services safe.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston praised the priests on his COVID ministry team, who volunteered and were given special training to go into hospitals and provide spiritual care for the sick.
“Not one of the priests got sick during this time,” said O’Malley. “We’re certainly grateful for the generosity and it was a great consolation for the whole community to know that they have access to the sacraments at the end of their lives.”
Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, thanked those who were willing to do extra work to disinfect entire churches after every Mass, baptism, and funeral.
“In the midst of Eucharistic absence, we could say, many people have stepped forward to make sure that we could experience, once again, the Eucharistic presence,” he said.
He recalled seeing Catholics kneeling outside the diocesan basilica, some crying, when churches were closed. He said their devotion moved him, and he believes this love for the Eucharist will sustain the Church moving forward.
Other bishops also discussed the future of the Church in a post-pandemic world. Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, suggested a national campaign urging Catholics to bring someone with them when returning to Mass, as a means of evangelizing those who might fall away from the faith during the period in which churches have been closed.
Also on Tuesday, the conference announced the results of the previous day’s votes on several actions items, including the approval of the proposed 2021 conference budget and 2021-2024 Strategic Plan, as well as the reauthorization of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism for three years.
The ad hoc committee was established in August 2017 in the wake of increasing racial tensions and white nationalist activism. Its work has included resources on prayer, a press conference at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial, and the creation of an award-winning children’s book on healing and reconciliation.
The committee has been led since May 2018 by Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, La. It was previously led by Bishop George Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, Ohio, who resigned in 2018 due a recurrence of leukemia.
On Tuesday, Bishop Fabre led a discussion on racism, during which the bishops shared their experiences in their home dioceses. Several bishops said they had held listening sessions or set up task forces to better understand the local situations.
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Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland said the riots and violence in his city throughout the summer hijacked the “righteous and lawful” protests that had been taking place for racial equality.
He added that Asian-Americans in his diocese had faced scapegoating over the coronavirus pandemic.
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, said that the deadly mass shooting at a WalMart in his diocese last year, committed by a white nationalist, “really brought home the fact that white supremacy is not a harmless fringe ideology, but that it is a death-dealing ideology.”
Several bishops warned that words that demonize immigrants or other races can have deadly consequences.
The bishops also discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, and how to guide Catholics in thinking about the slogan and the organization affiliated with it.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore noted that he had written an article seeing “Black Lives Matter” through Catholic social teaching, saying it was helpful to see how the Church can speak on the issue.