First was a visit with Country Tough. Then the Bionic Woman and finally the Mountain Climber.
All three parishioners and their spouses were overjoyed at a visit from their pastor, who brought Communion to them for the first time since a pause after the coronavirus pandemic hit. Several safety precautions still are in place as parishes have resumed bringing Communion to homebound parishioners.
Msgr. Francis X. Blood, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Warrenton, spent part of a warm July morning traveling across some of the 360 square miles of his parish — one of the largest parish territories — to visit and distribute Communion to the three households.
Richard Mertens, wearing socks that proclaimed “Country Tough,” and his wife, Irma, live in rural Warren County. Richard answered the door and Msgr. Blood acknowledged that it had been a while since he last visited. He’s glad to come back, he said, and asked: “Have you been holding out OK?”
With a friendly smile, Richard replied, “So far, we’re getting by good.” He laughed after his visitor mentioned that the Mertens are handling aging well, adding: “I’ve had all I need of that.”
Msgr. Blood was impressed with the couple as soon as he met them after being named pastor of the
parish two years ago. He was interviewed on a Warrenton radio station and spoke about what a privilege it was to know the couple. He also mentioned in a homily how he was inspired by the couple, who’ve been married 65 years and have seven children and 22 grandchildren. Richard was in the quarry business, and Irma was a nurse before retiring and are longtime parishioners.
They prayed together and Msgr. Blood read a quote from St. John’s Gospel. Wearing a mask around his mouth and nose and using hand sanitizer before retrieving the Eucharist, Msgr. Blood said another prayer, ending with, “The Body of Christ,” and placing Communion in their hands. He gave them a moment to pray quietly before blessing them.
Richard said the visit “means quite a bit to me. I told a lot of people that one-on-one conversation with him is hard to beat.”
Heading back to Warrenton and winding through a senior community, Msgr. Blood pulled up at the home of Mike and Rose Jablonski. He’s recovering well from back surgery, and she had a brace on her arm after recovering from a fall in the yard. Rose has had eight surgeries. Msgr. Blood calls her “the Bionic Woman.”
The retirees have four children and seven grandchildren. They’re originally from St. Louis, and they moved to Warrenton 15 years ago after living in Arizona. They’ve been active in parish organizations throughout their life, and Rose volunteered at the Agape ministry, which provides emergency relief to people in Warren County who are hungry, hurting and homeless.
Msgr. Blood read from the Gospel of St. John as the couple sat at their dining room table, adorned by a small crucifix, before he distributed Communion and blessed them.
Rose, who reads Scripture each night, said that the visit meant a lot to her. “I was missing not getting to church and receiving the Eucharist,” she said.
The next stop was another rural area where Kathy Pottebaum lives with her husband, Chris, who stopped in on his lunch hour. She is recovering after falling and breaking her hip and was assisted that day by her two granddaughters. It came after a few other health issues, and she said that “I get almost to the top of the mountain, then something happens.”
Msgr. Blood asked God to continue the process of her recovery and prayed, “Lord Jesus, You healed the sick, Lord have mercy. You forgave sinners, Christ have mercy. You give us Yourself to heal us and bring us strength, Lord have mercy. May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life.”
Msgr. Blood also thanked Jesus for the gift of the Holy Eucharist which “gives us a share in His eternal life, His love and His grace and His victory over sin and death.”
Pottebaum said she looks forward to talking to Msgr. Blood and the other extraordinary ministers of Holy Eucharist from the parish who had yet to start making visits. “It keeps me strong every day,” she said.
For Msgr. Blood, visiting people in their homes is an opportunity to be pastorally present to them. “Not only can I bring them Holy Communion, but as their pastor I can show concern for them. We have such good people. It’s very uplifting for me. That’s what I enjoy about being a priest, being able to interact with people of so many different ages and so many different situations, being able to give them comfort of Communion, anointing and confession if they would like.”
It’s a hardship spiritually for people in hospitals and nursing homes who still aren’t able to receive visits, he noted.
People who care
Orville Moore is one of more than 50 volunteers from Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie who brought Communion to homebound people and the six nursing homes in the parish before the pandemic hit. Immaculate Conception is one of the largest parishes in the archdiocese in number of parishioners. Visits to nursing homes are on hold. Moore visited three homes earlier this month, and he’s visited as few as one a day and as many as 10.
He’s attended daily Mass for about 40 years, which provides a good start to his day. “I love the Lord and I’m very grateful for all the gifts I have,” said Moore who, at age 69, walks 6 miles a day. His good health enables him to spend time with people on the Communion visits. “It’s the highlight of my week,” he said. “I talk to God and I thank Him for giving me the opportunity to bring His Son to those who are homebound and can’t get to Him. I ask the Lord to uplift their spirit and so these people can draw closer to the Lord.”
One of the people he visited, Brenda Jones, said “I felt alive knowing that there are people who think of me. I really enjoy it. I don’t get many visitors.”
Jones said knowing that “somebody really cares about me” means a lot.
Kathy Minicky, pastoral associate at Immaculate Conception Parish, said because Communion visits stopped and now are slowed because of the virus, she’s calling parishioners who are homebound to “let them know they’re in our hearts, they’re in our prayers and they’re still part of our parish.”
Msgr. Ted Wojcicki, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, said parishioners generously care for the materially poor through the parish’s St Vincent de Paul Hope Center. Among those most in need, he said, are the sick and the homebound.
“We emphasize a compassionate care for their spiritual, emotional and psychological needs,” Msgr. Wojcicki said. “We are a eucharistic people. The Mass is our most important communal prayer. Bringing someone the presence of Jesus, the Body and Blood of Christ, in Holy Communion is the most special gift we can give. In this manner the sick and homebound person is then connected to our ICD community of believers. In receiving the Body of Christ at their own residence, they are then connected to our local Body of Christ, the Church.”
Reports show that as early as the year 150, after the Sunday Mass, ministers took the Eucharist to those who were unable to be present. Included were people who were in prison for living according to the Gospel and those whose work kept them away. The Eucharist also was brought to people who were sick and the infirm, and those who were otherwise homebound.
An item on the website of St. Matthew Church in Hillsboro, Oregon, explained the ministry: “This is one more of our wonderful ancient traditions: to love and cherish and to keep connected with those members of this community who cannot be with us at the Table of the Lord.”