In hindsight, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s comments in November 2019 during the closing Mass of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s 175th anniversary celebration look pretty prescient.
“It is our moment,” he said. “It is our challenge.”
Little did he, or anyone, know the moment and challenge that lay ahead with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“I firmly believe God has us where he wants us to be,” Archbishop Listecki said earlier this month. “Whether or not we cooperate with God’s plan is another question. God certainly gives us every opportunity to witness to the faith and to be what he wants us to be.”
Starting in late January, a trickle of reports about a new virus started to creep into the United States. Those reports intensified in February and, by the middle of March, many businesses, schools and churches closed. Included in the closings were all of the Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Archbishop Listecki said one of the things he will reflect upon when looking back at 2020 is how quickly things can change.
“In my 70-plus years of life, I have never experienced all the churches being closed in the United States,” he said. “I never thought it was even possible to do that in the United States.”
Despite the increase of illness and death from the coronavirus, some silver linings that came out of the pandemic and the shutdowns. Prominent among those were an advanced level of the use of technology by parishes and priests, a reiteration of the charitable nature of Catholics and the Church, and a renewed sense of longing and appreciation for the Sacraments.
Livestreams, podcasts and phone calls were just some of the ways parishes maintained communication with parishioners throughout the shutdown of the churches, which lasted until May.
“It forced us to be creative in our evangelization and in our outreach, touching the lives of parishioners,” Archbishop Listecki said. “God bless our priests, our deacons, our lay administrators, our parish directors, our pastoral associates. They came up with some creative measures to keep in contact.”
Charitable giving among Catholics increased, as there was a palpable sense of neighbor helping neighbor, which continues even now. The Clare Center on the campus of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary was used to house the homeless and Seton Catholic Schools donated more than 220,000 meals, representing more than one of 10 meals served to the underprivileged in the state of Wisconsin. In addition, parishes increased their outreach the elderly and homebound. It wasn’t just a dollars-and-cents charity, Catholics led the way donating their time and talents as well, showing their love for their neighbor.
“Our Catholics love the Church,” Archbishop Listecki said. “We know the Church is established for the good of all of our brothers and sisters, so we want to do everything possible to make sure our Church and parish communities not only survive, but thrive. They thrive because of their ability to reach out to others.”
The archbishop noted he heard from Catholics across the region who had a longing for the Eucharist and a sense of what the Mass means, including a sense of belonging and pulling together as a community.
“They mean all the difference for us going forward,” Archbishop Listecki said. “We will be looking as a Church to celebrate the Mass on Sunday, to celebrate it in a manner to realize what a gift it is.”
At a time of year when we all take time to reflect on the previous 12 months, Archbishop Listecki is no different.
“It’s (a year) through which we’ve grown,” he said. “I think that’s important. A lot of people want to shut the door on 2020. I want us to examine 2020 and take a look at what we’ve learned from it, so it will make us stronger as we go forward. We will look at ourselves because we were so blessed at the type of lives we led. Now we can’t take that for granted.”