Ever since the initial shut-down in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been looking for signs of hope. Occasionally, news of a potentially effective drug or progress on a vaccine or possible cure would excite us, but more often, dire statistics and rising numbers of new cases were cause for anxiety. As weeks turned into months, it was easy to become very discouraged. When would things start to get better?
But now we are seeing signs of hope. As of today, Ontario has fallen below the threshold of 200 new cases of infection for the fourth day in a row. The curve seems to be flattening, and progress is being made. Other parts of the country are achieving even greater success in containing the spread of the disease. This is good news.
The provincial government and the health authorities have responded with a loosening of restrictions and a lifting of some of the constraints that have been imposed, including on us in the Church. But as the people of God, we are conscious of our tremendous responsibility – our baptismal promises, in fact – to care for each other and for the whole world. We are obliged to resume our common life together using the utmost caution, with deliberate care.
For this reason, the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario has entitled our template for the reopening of our churches: “Loving Our Neighbour”. Our plan for the return to our usual practices is a gradual and intentional act of love towards one another. We know that whatever care we can offer for the other, particularly “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40), is as if we are caring for Christ himself.
Each separate diocese will be releasing specific instructions with concrete guidance for parishes on June 30. Hours of prayer, consultation and hard work are being poured into these checklists, and I know that they will help you to prepare for the stages that are to come.
I want to close with a gentle reminder: to date, 2,550 Ontarians have lost their lives to COVID-19. For their families, there will be no “return to normal.” Please keep them, and all those affected by the disease – the sick, the vulnerable, health-care workers and care-givers – in your prayers as we move forward in reopening carefully, bringing signs of hope.