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Core to the mission of The Basilica of Saint Mary is our parish commitment to respond to the needs of the vulnerable in our community. Our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry (SVDP) is a cornerstone of this response. In a two-fold approach, we seek to provide compassionate and effective assistance to those in need and to provide a way for parishioners to engage in service. At the heart of this work is a priority to build relationships and an absolute belief in the dignity of all.
During these days of COVID-19 illness and unemployment, and unrest after the death of George Floyd, work of our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry is more important than ever. Yet, our work is more challenged than ever. The rhythms of daily life and the infrastructure of our community have shifted or disappeared. This is felt most urgently by those who are vulnerable. Our response requires new thinking and imagination—and steadfast commitment.
The work of Basilica St. Vincent de Paul provides a broad spectrum of care. It supports people who live in homeless encampments across the street from The Basilica. It supports people who are recent immigrants to Minnesota—working to establish their lives in our community. It supports parishioner families who lost their job during Stay-At-Home orders, and families in North Minneapolis who are struggling. Indeed, the need is great.
As we weave our way through the impact of COVID-19, SVdP provides basic care by ensuring our neighbors who are homeless have a bathroom available. While The Basilica is closed, we installed 2 portable toilets on 17th street for people to use. Using technology and creativity, Basilica SVdP volunteers continued in long-term relationships with students at Minneapolis College who experience homelessness or generational poverty. These students are persevering against great odds to make a change in their life. In May 2020, one student shared the impact of this mentoring relationship: “I am very grateful for having the mentoring program. It has been a rough year for me and my mentor helped me through it. This program is great for people who struggle like me.”
Our daily St. Vincent de Paul programs held in the Lower Level of the Church—programs that serve thousands of neighbors each year—have been suspended, due to COVID restrictions. However, through ingenuity, perseverance and compassion, we are finding ways for volunteers to connect with and assist people in the community with rent assistance through phone and email contact. We are working to bring back more services to the community utilizing technology—ways to provide assistance effectively, but not in-person.
Our immigrant support teams partner with families seeking asylum through a variety of on-line methods. The volunteers who provide meals to the hungry in our community continue with special safety protocols.
These are among many changes we are working through with our volunteers and our community partners. Our commitment to respond to those most in need has never been stronger.
Look for a special collection to donate to Basilica St. Vincent de Paul in upcoming weeks. Consider supporting this important work. One hundred percent of your donation goes directly to people in need. To find ways to get involved, call my office at 612.317.3477.
Too quiet, too empty. As I write, the normally intense Basilica Block Party usually set up by hundreds of volunteers would have been in full swing. With COVID-19 and the common good in mind, cancelling this summer party was clearly the right decision.
Feelings of loss and sadness for what was “normal” go far beyond this fun summer event. We are not gathering in person for liturgies and volunteering… not building Habitat homes… not gathering in person to celebrate our children and catechists’ year of learning about our Catholic faith… not offering St. Vincent de Paul daily outreach. Too quiet indeed.
Without the experiences that normally mark our liturgical, volunteer and social calendars, the shape of daily life has changed dramatically. The future feels uncertain. As a planner, there are days when I find all of this unnerving, challenging, and sometimes maddening.
However and perhaps in spite of COVID-19, I’m seeing many glimmers of hope for our parish’s future. Young adults gather Thursday evenings on The Basilica lawn for Bible Study—social distancing and discussing Scripture. Recently, 98 people joined a “Grief in the City” webinar and this session is available on mary.org any time to anyone interested. Small weddings are being celebrated. Families are having small funerals to grieve the loss of a loved one.
We are gaining new skills as we befriend new technologies. Zoom is our new noun, verb, and connecting point, and we’ve rediscovered the telephone. Teams of volunteers are “zooming” as is Thursday Morning Prayer, Wednesday Coffee and Conversation with Fr. Bauer, speakers, and committee and staff meetings. All these and more happen virtually. Staff and volunteers are staying in touch with each other and ministry participants.
While most staff work primarily from home, the Rectory is staffed for a limited daily schedule. Thanks to SVdP donations, staff serve coffee and sandwiches to those who are hungry. Port-a-potties are available to our neighbors who are homeless. Their gratitude for these basic amenities is humbling.
While liturgies aren’t the same without your presence, they are livestreamed daily and with a national and global reach. A new camera system has been installed and staff training started last week. We are learning as we go and committed to livestreaming liturgies into the future. As we learn the ropes, the possibilities for expanded outreach are exciting.
As we focus on safety for guests, staff and priests, we continue to develop health screening and cleaning protocols. People in limited numbers are now invited to daily Mass in person, with pre-registration, health screening and facemasks required. Our COVID-19 Preparedness Plan is available on mary.org, and the plan will evolve as we continue to learn about this virus. Things may look and feel different on the Basilica campus, but remember our goal is a safe experience for all.
As we seek a “new normal,” the heart of Basilica parish life, both in person and virtually, has remained the same. Together, we are committed to being a home of spiritual nourishment, a beacon of hope where all are welcomed with respect and dignity, and an advocate for change working for peace, justice and equality.
30 Days of Silent Prayer: Healing the Heart of Our City is a month-long, July 1-31, African American-led collaborative conceived to add a vital spiritual factor to all the strategic thinking, policy proposals and investments being considered.
Our communities are experiencing deep and multi-layered trauma. The devastation of COVID-19, when combined with the heinous murder of George Floyd, created a perfect pain-storm, with riots, looting, and arson, followed by a steep escalation in violent crime. This has brought us all to a more painful awareness of the alienation of our youth and of ongoing generational and systemic racism.
This is a shared public ritual where people of all faiths and good will can come together throughout the day for 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silent prayer/meditation. These ongoing prayer sessions will take place throughout the day under a tent located in the Hawthorne Crossings parking lot at the corner of West Broadway Ave. and Bryant Ave. N. in North Minneapolis. Over the course of 30 days, we will collectively grieve our losses, open ourselves to change, and pray for a new future. All are welcome.
In addition to in-person physically distanced prayer, there will be opportunities to interact with the wider community from home by offering prayers, photos, videos and positive messages through social media using the hashtag #healingourcity.