By Jerry Duggan
God has a way of putting the right people in the right place at the right time. A great example is Fr. Jeremy Zipple, SJ, associate pastor at St. Martin de Porres in Belize City, Belize. When the pandemic hit in March, the parish, long an anchor in its economically impoverished neighborhood, could no longer welcome parishioners in person. It became imperative to find new ways to meet the spiritual needs of the community.
St. Martin de Porres had a limited online presence at the start of the lockdown. Fortunately, Fr. Zipple has the necessary expertise to change that. In March, the parish had no YouTube channel; now it has over 300 subscribers. The parish had never streamed a Mass before. Now, around 400 households tune in every Sunday, and several hundred more watch the recording later.
Father Zipple also boosted the parish’s social media presence, more than doubling its Facebook following. Thanks to his efforts, other aspects of parish life can now be conducted virtually, too, such as a daily homily, a workshop on forgiveness and a parish town hall.
As important as it was to make essential parish functions available online, Fr. Zipple realized something can be lacking in virtual production: a sense
of community. As Holy Week approached, parishioners were distraught over the parish being shuttered during the most important spiritual week of the year. Father Zipple knew he could do something special to lift their spirits.
In the week leading up to Palm Sunday, the parish put out messages on Facebook, asking parishioners to film a short clip of their families waving palms and singing along to the popular hymn Enter Into Jerusalem. Within days, the parish had more than 100 submissions.
Father Zipple compiled the clips to create a virtual Palm Sunday procession, in which parishioners could see familiar smiling faces singing along to one of their favorite hymns.
“It’s great to make parish life practical during a pandemic, but it’s also important to recreate that sense of community,” he said. “In times like these, people need to feel like they’re not alone, and that’s what we’re trying to do with all these efforts – to let people know that not only is God with them, but their parish community is, too – even if over a screen.”
Jesuits of this province are committed to meeting the spiritual needs of all, at a distance, for however long the pandemic dictates.