Father Michael Toomey, Ss Peter & Paul’s Parish, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, Diocese of Waterford and Lismore
Q1. How are you coping day to day with lockdown/social distancing?
I’m kept very busy as we are lucky to have the Church Services TV system, to which many people are tuning in daily. During Easter, we had over 20,000 views at one point during the Triduum, and over 7,000 at an outside broadcast from the local St Patrick’s Cemetery on Easter Day, getting views from Clonmel and all around the country and the world.
We still have funerals. It heart-breaking for families to have such a limited number of people in attendance, yet thankfully, the Church Services system allows people to join in from home. We are also able to stream these services from churches outside our own, which has proved to be great comfort to many families.
I am lucky that I stay at home with my mother, and together we are reminiscing about the good old days, while I do the shopping for her and a few other elderly neighbours.
Q2. What do you miss most?
Meeting people, especially saying Mass in our local nursing home, and saying Mass to those who regularly attend daily in our churches. I also miss going into schools. As we have two primary and secondary schools, I miss the students and staff, as they keep me very busy.
Easter was surreal. While I celebrated the Triduum alone, and used many virtual resources, knowing many people were watching and listening at home kept me very focused. On Holy Thursday at prayers around the Altar of Repose, I felt closer to Christ in Gethsemane – alone, yet the eyes of the world watching, waiting and praying. I did what I would have normally done if the church was full, so the Sanctuary is decorated in flowers and visually shows the joy of the Resurrection in these Easter Days.
Q3. How are you reaching out online as a priest/parish/individual?
I have never been busier in the way we are connecting online with people. Our daily and Sunday Masses are all online, and I have broadcast several Masses from here on RTÉ News Now at 10.30am weekdays.
Celebrating a Mass for students on the day they were to make their Confirmation was very rewarding. Many sent in pictures of themselves and their families watching at home and later, eating cake! We are now planning a Mass for our First Holy Communion students and their families in the coming weeks, and we are also doing a virtual online class for 6th Class – “Ask Father’ where the students question me about anything! It should be interesting!
I held a Prayer Service before Holy Week, in which over 1,000 candles were lit in the church (see picture), with the pews lit up in the shape of a Cross. Many petitions were read out, along with scripture and reflections to help everyone through these days. We had over 7,000 views from all over the world which we had never experienced before!
I am also writing a weekly column in our local newspaper, encouraging everyone as best I can at this time
In terms of continuing this post-Coivid 19 – I definitely will! I feel the Gospel line: “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News” has been made so real for us now, in reaching out virtually to those in our parish and around the world! It is something we have all been thrown into and are adapting with new initiatives and ways of reaching out – especially to those who do not usually attend Church.
Q4. What’s the first thing you will do after lockdown/social distancing is eased?
I will meet up with many friends and family, especially my uncle who has not been too well lately. I don’t think things will be back to normal as what we knew before – I think we will be much more appreciative of close family and friends, and perhaps we might all focus on the human contacts we have taken for granted in the past. I will also be celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving for the whole community.
Q5. What’s your message to those in need of hope and encouragement at this time?
Just to see the wonderful community spirit in so many small ways has been so emotional, and just typical of the kind of people we are here in Clonmel and in Ireland. We should all be so very proud of what we are doing together, by keeping apart!
My Prayers and thoughts are also for those affected by the Coronavirus, remembering those who have sadly lost their lives to this terrible virus and their families.
Keep safe! Keep apart! And God bless!