Latest News

 

 

 

Outdoor Rosary Feeds Hunger for Prayer during COVID Pandemic

Drone photos of a large-scale rosary on church drive

Sally Rico was looking for a new way to keep parishioners connected with their faith after churches closed as part of the statewide COVID-19 precautions. Her idea, an outdoor, walkable rosary, soon went viral on social media.

Rico, coordinator for religious education at St. Lawrence Martyr parish in Hanover, Md., and Father Victor Scocco, OSST, the pastor, noticed that parishioners would park outside the church to say their prayers, while neighbors, who now were working from home, were using the park side of the 29-acre church property for exercise.

The parish, which is the faith home for nearly 800 families, has a circular driveway that could be blocked off while the building was closed. The idea for a walkable rosary was born.

Logistics of creating the rosary

The challenge was how to make it happen. The rosary could not be permanent since the driveway would need to be used by cars once the church reopened. Working with the Ayoub family, including their five children, Rico found a cornstarch and flour recipe for the paint and together they measured the driveway — 102 feet — and worked out the size of each bead.

On a cold and windy day, the team gathered for more than 10 hours to lay out and paint the rosary, using the feet of 11-year-old Grace to measure out the placement of each bead. They placed signs to help people pray.

“We put the prayers of the rosary close to where they would be prayed for those who don’t know how to pray the rosary. We picked joyful mysteries. We need to be joyful regardless of our situations,” said Rico.

Then Rez LaBoy got a call, asking if he could come over. LaBoy, a recreational drone operator, recently joined the parish with his wife, Karen, after moving to the area. He has been preparing to become Catholic through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program at St. Hugh of Grenoble in Greenbelt, his wife’s longtime parish, where they received marriage preparation and have been helping livestream Sunday Masses this spring.

Within minutes of the call, he headed to St. Lawrence with his drone and took photos of the rosary, which the parish posted on social media. That’s when things took off. Calls and emails have poured in from around the country. 

People really have a hunger for Christ

At the parish, Scocco said that “over the last weeks, we have seen people quietly walking and making use of the rosary.”

They have come not only from the parish, but from other parts of Maryland, and a neighbor who is not Catholic asked Rico to walk through the rosary with her. Rico explained that the rosary is a meditation on the life of Christ.

“The beautiful part of this story is that many parishioners were hurt in not being able to come into the church. No one ever thinks about the church having to close its doors,” LaBoy said, noting this was a “creative and unique way” for parishioners to still come to church, although outside.

While the past two months have meant many changes for the parish, Scocco said, “What I’m amazed about is the cohesiveness of the parish. We have managed to stay together.”

“While people are of varying opinions on how and when we should open up, one thing is clear: they have an obvious hunger for the sacraments,” he continued. “People really have a hunger for Christ.”

In speaking about the changes, Fr. Scocco noted that he has acquired more digital skills and said parishioners write daily and have been grateful for online Masses. The parish’s young adult lectio divina group moved their meetings to Zoom and, using the parish directory, coordinated outreach to seniors in the parish. Online Adoration has drawn strong numbers and when Fr. Scocco offered the Sacrament of Reconciliation outdoors, following social distancing guidelines, people came for 2-1/2 hours.

Parishioners also have been directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with nine families, including the father-in-law of an RCIA participant, affected.

Fr. Scocco expects some online ministry will continue after restrictions are lifted. The parish looks forward to worshipping in-person again, welcoming their eight RCIA participants into full communion, and to celebrating an ordination to the priesthood that will be held in the fall. Brother Josh Warshak, OSST, has been assisting as a transitional deacon at St. Lawrence while preparing to become a priest.


Please note: The Rosary was not designed to be permanent as the driveway will be used for cars again soon. The parish may create another outdoor rosary next May. Photos by Rez LaBoy, recreational drone photographer.

Sally Rico provided the recipe used to create the Rosary: 

Chalk paint

  • 1:1 flour to water
  • 1:1 cornstarch to water 

(1/2 c. of cornstarch + 1/2 c. of water) + (1/2 c. flour + 1/2 c. of water) = just over a cup of solution

Food dye for approximately 1 cup of solution

  • 10 drops blue
  • 2 drops pink
  • 2 drops black

 

Read more

Health Ministry and Safety during COVID

Health care ministry during COVID-19

With a hospital and several assisted living, rehabilitation and nursing home facilities nearby, health care ministry is an important outreach at St. Peter Parish in Olney.

“We may have as many as 75 to 100 people at a time who have an extraordinary health care need, for whom we provide accompaniment and sacraments,” said Fr. Tom Kalita, pastor at St. Peter’s. “Often, they are feeling lonely and bereft, which affects their ability to heal.”

The restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic have been difficult for carrying out this ministry. Parish volunteers, priests, and deacons who once brought the Eucharist weekly, and prayed and visited with patients and residents have not been able to go into local medical care facilities and retirement residences for the past two months. The parish continues to pray for those who are ill or elderly, but in-person visits are on hold.

Fr. Kalita has been allowed one visit, to minister to a woman nearing death. He had to wear proper protective gear and follow strict protocols, which included using a Q-tip dipped in the sacred oil to anoint her.

“It took as long to get suited up as the time I was there praying. I think of the people who need to put on and take off the protective gear. It is hard,” Fr. Kalita noted.

Another day, a call came into the parish from the hospital across the street. Two Catholic patients were nearing death. The hospital was closed to visitors, but could something be done? Armed with the patients’ room numbers, Fr. Kalita stood in front of the hospital and, one-by-one, turned in the direction of each of the rooms, gave conditional absolution, and said the prayers for the dying.

Across Maryland, clergy and volunteers are finding new ways to be present for those who are medically fragile and elderly, and to continue to do what they can to serve.

As Father Mike Tietjen, pastor of Immaculate Conception in Mechanicsville, recently told the Catholic Standard about his own ministry with COVID patients, “We are going in there because Jesus asked us to do this. We are being prudent, we are being smart, but we are doing what we always have done … We are coping with this situation. The Church has coped with pandemics before. It's the first time for us, but not for the Church.” 

Catholic Hospitals in Maryland


Ethics of Vaccines

Several U.S. bishops, who chair committees for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently urged the FDA to to ensure that vaccines for COVID-19 are developed ethically and are free from any connection to abortion. READ THE LETTER HERE

Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Prevention 

Advocates and lawmakers in Maryland have expressed concern over a rise in domestic violence and child abuse incidents during stay-in-place orders. If you are being abused or if you suspect someone is being abused, please get help now.


Mental Health Services

  • Maryland Department of Health Mental Health crisis helpline: 211, press 1, or text 898-211
  • A short video on managing anxiety during coronavirus (Saint Luke Institute)
Read more

June 2 is Maryland's Primary. Learn where the candidates stand on key issues.

To help voters know more about the candidates running for Congress in Maryland's June 2 primary, the Maryland Catholic Conference surveyed the candidates on issues ranging from education to caring for the poor. The survey results are now available on the Conference website at www.mdcatholic.org/elections.

Maryland’s Primary Election day is Tuesday, June 2, and due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the state will conduct the primary by mail. All eligible voters will be mailed a ballot, which can be returned via mail or dropped off at select locations throughout the state starting on May 21 and continuing through primary election day on June 2. Limited in-person voting locations will be available on June 2. Voters can also register to vote online through election day. 

Catholics are called to participate in political processes like voting to work for the common good and be a voice of the Christian faith in the public square. 

To help voters make an informed choice when voting, the Maryland Catholic Conference surveys candidates each election on a number of key issues and allows each candidate to make a brief statement. For the 2020 election, the Conference surveyed the candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Maryland's eight congressional districts.

The Conference asked candidates whether they agreed or disagreed with positions on topics including: caring for the poor, immigration, healthcare, educational options and conscience protections. Many candidates touched on other important issues in their brief statements, including abortion. 

"We encourage every Catholic voter in Maryland to visit our site and read the results of the survey before they vote," said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Conference. "Our goal is to help voters understand more about the candidates and know where they stand on issues that are of importance to our Catholic faith. While we cannot gather together at the polls this primary election day, each one of us still can participate in this important political process and make our voice heard."

The Maryland Catholic Conference does not endorse candidates or political parties.

To learn more about why these issues matter to the Church, please visit the Issues page on our website.

To register to vote in the June 2 primary, visit: elections.maryland.gov/voter_registration.

 

Read more

COVID-19 and Prison Release

prison

WHAT IF STAY-IN-PLACE COULD MEAN RISK?

Stay-in-place orders are meant to reduce contact between people and control the spread of COVID-19, but what happens when stay-in-place leaves people vulnerable?

Chaplains and volunteers with Catholic prison ministry across Maryland have been concerned about the risk of COVID-19 for incarcerated youth and adults.

The order by Governor Larry Hogan in mid-April to allow expedited release of inmates who are considered not to pose a threat to public safety, such as those who are elderly, pregnant, or non-violent, was welcomed to reduce crowding and health risks.

“My office has received so many calls concerning their incarcerated family members that I was overwhelmed. It was truly a blessing,” Deacon Seigfried Presberry said after the governor's order was enacted. He is the coordinator for prison ministry in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The Maryland Catholic Conference participates in two state coalitions that focus on reforms to the system of justice. Garrett O'Day, deputy director for the Conference, noted, "The Maryland Catholic Conference has taken positions previously on legislation that is in line with Gov. Hogan’s order, such as commonsense measures allowing for geriatric parole and protection for pregnant inmates.”

On April 27, the Maryland Department for Juvenile Services announced that 200 youth being held for non-violent or misdemeanor reasons had been released. Five young people and 11 staff previously had tested positive for COVID-19.

Fr. Mike Bryant, who has worked in prison ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington since the 1980s and who continues to serve as a volunteer chaplain, said the reason prisons are a particular concern is that “COVID-19 is a deadly virus and people living in confined spaces are at high risk for contracting this disease, whether they are in nursing homes, jails, prisons or half-way houses. Prisons are often unsanitary places, and sometimes lack basic means by which residents can maintain personal hygiene and social distance from one another.”

While restrictions are in place in Maryland’s prisons, Deacon Presberry noted the two full-time chaplains in the Archdiocese of Baltimore continue to serve these correctional institutions and are allowed to go inside as essential workers. He noted that the work right now “has been challenging, to say the least.”

Prison ministry volunteers and other visitors, however, are not permitted to enter prisons at this time. Deacon Presberry said he is getting requests from parishes and others asking how they can help or donate.

“I remind them to pray and after we can see some light at the end of the tunnel, I will be contacting them because the institutions are not allowing anything to come in” during this crisis, he said.

LEARN MORE about prison ministry and re-entry programs: Archdiocese of Baltimore | Archdiocese of Washington

Read more

From School to Screen

Photo: St. Martin School in Gaithersburg, MD, via Twitter

Moving 54 elementary schools online in a matter of days takes a lot of work, but Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington were online as soon as schools were ordered closed as part of state health precautions.

 “We took off and started distance learning immediately. Our families deserve the same quality of education whether the campuses are closed or not,” said Vicky McCann, Director for Curriculum and Instruction for the Archdiocese of Washington Catholic Schools.

Technology that already was in place (with iPad or laptop loans made to families where needed), ongoing training for teachers, parent surveys, and flexibility by principals, teachers, and parents have been key factors in making the transition a success, McCann said. Data collection and assessment have helped schools adapt as the online experience has continued.

“There were some bumps,” said Ms. McCann. “We figured out what was working and not working. Now, we have a system down and the schools are really taking off.”

For example, live classes are recorded so students who are not able to attend at the scheduled time can watch later, projects may include offline and online options, and teachers are encouraged to schedule assignments so students can work over a weekend. This has turned out to be important with the complexity of family schedules during "stay in place."

She said schools continue to share daily announcements, celebrate birthdays and follow traditions they already had. The day and classes start with prayers, and religions classes continue to be held.

“We have to give thanks to our priests. They’ve been offering online Masses for the children,” Ms. McCann noted, as well as leading online Stations of the Cross and praying the rosary with students.

Community service is an important part of the day, also. Students at Cardinal Hickey Academy in Owings worked on thank you notes for first responders this week, and the principal at St. Francis International School in Silver Spring not only is overseeing an online school, but also is coordinating food distribution for low-income families.

It’s all part of what a Catholic school community offers. As Ms. McCann said, “None of this could have been possible without our teachers and parents.”

The Catholic schools in the Maryland portion of the Archdiocese of Washington make up Maryland's 13th largest school system, public or private. The Archdiocese is home to 92 archdiocesan and independent schools in five Maryland counties and Washington, DC.

Read more

Statement by Archbishop William E. Lori on the deaths of Gideon Joseph Kennedy McKean and Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean

Contact: Kate Alexander
443-510-1532 (cell)
kalexander@mdcatholic.org

  

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Most Rev. William E. Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the Board of Governors for the Maryland Catholic Conference, offered condolences to the family of former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend on the death of her daughter, Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean, and grandson, Gideon Joseph Kennedy McKean.

“Our hearts and prayers are with the Townsend and McKean families at this time of tragedy and sorrow. In this holiest of weeks, we turn to our Lord to bring comfort to the family of Maeve and Gideon McKean, and to grant unto them eternal peace.” 

###

Read more

Catholic Organizations Respond to COVID-19 Needs

Catholic social services agencies, schools and parishes in Maryland are responding to community and health needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With more people out of work and everyone social distancing, parish food pantries, Catholic Charities and other nonprofits are seeing an increase in requests for assistance. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington is holding a Holy Week Virtual Food Drive to replenish the shelves at SHARE, the Southern Maryland Food Bank, and other food pantries and programs. They, and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Diocese of Wilmington, have adjusted services in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but continue to serve. 

On April 7, the Knights of Columbus announced a multi-million-dollar food drive and delivery operation to support food banks in 20 cities, including initial $50,000 donations to food banks in Baltimore and Washington, DC. The international Catholic organization is encouraging its members to volunteer at food banks and help deliver food to those in need across the country.

Catholic health care providers across Maryland, including our Catholic hospitals, are on the front lines of responding to medical needs related to COVID-19 through testing, care and, at Mercy Medical Center, fast-tracking the construction of a 32-bed acute care unit that will open this summer.

Holy Cross Health, with two hospitals in Montgomery County, Md., has posted an online wish list of needs, such as personal protective equipment, including masks (that meet certain criteria) and supplies.

The Catholic schools also are doing their part to keep these front-line workers safe, with families and local organizations using the schools’ 3-D printers to make face shields for hospital and other health care use. St. Mary’s High School in Annapolis also partnered with a local company to produce respirators and masks.

Women religious, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, and lay staff at Catholic nursing homes and senior residences across Maryland also are implementing safety measures to protect residents, many of whom are low income or medically fragile. Please keep them and their needs in prayer.

Visit our COVID-19 page for updated Church and government resources on prayer, giving, support, and assistance, and a video to make your own mask with a cloth and rubber bands.

Read more

Government Resources for COVID Relief

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to deeply impact families, schools, and businesses throughout the world, including here in Maryland, federal and state leaders have taken action to try to ease the impact. 

“The Federal CARES Act and Families First Coronavirus Act, as well as increased assistance made available by the State of Maryland, could offer significant benefits for families, schools, and businesses,” said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. 

“We are continuing to assess and monitor the legislation and assistance programs and do all that we can to ensure nonprofits and schools, including our Catholic programs, are able to access available funds,” she added. 

The CARES Act will provide $4.9 billion in federal assistance for Maryland. 

In addition, Maryland has opened a special health care enrollment period for residents who do not have health insurance (plans may not be changed at this time). Details are on the Maryland Health Connection website, and local navigators are available in each county to assist residents by phone. Applications must be in by June 15. 

RESOURCES FOR NON-PROFITS AND SMALL BUSINESSES

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, And Economic Security Act (CARES Act) provides $350 billion to help small businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees — including faith-based organizations — through two programs administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA).

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) allows small businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees to receive a loan up to 2.5 times an organization’s average monthly payroll expenditure. The intent is to help keep people employed during the crisis. Other allowable uses include business rent and/or mortgage payments and costs associated with continuing group health benefits during a period of paid sick, medical, or family leave. 

Loans will be forgiven by the Small Business Association if at least 75 percent of the borrowed funds are used to cover payroll and maintain employment for workers, and other certain conditions are met. Businesses and non-profits apply through local lenders, which will also disperse the loans. Funds will be allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis and may run out prior to the June 30 deadline. However, the Treasury Department today asked Congress to commit another $200 billion for this small business loan program.

The CARES Act also expands SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL). Small businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees can apply for low-interest loans of up to $2 million. If approved, a loan advance of up to $10,000 will be disbursed within three days of an application to help quickly provide working capital relief. This advance would not have to be repaid.

Another provision of the CARES Act provides an incentive to donate to nonprofits and faith-based organizations by allowing individual taxpayers to take an above-the-line tax deduction for up to $300 in cash charitable contributions on 2020 taxes – even taxpayers who will not itemize, but instead will take the standard deduction. 

SUPPORT FOR INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES

The CARES Act provides a number of benefits to assist families and individuals:

  • Adds $600 to weekly unemployment checks for up to four months, on top of state benefits.
  • Expands unemployment insurance to those previously ineligible, such as part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers.
  • Extends unemployment benefits an additional 13 weeks to 39 weeks total.
  • Provides additional funding for state Medicare programs, including for Telehealth services.
  • Allows for a forbearance in addition to a moratorium on foreclosures on properties with federally-backed mortgages and moratorium on rental evictions.
  • Provides direct financial assistance to low- and middle-income Americans, of up to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married filing jointly, plus $500 for every child, for adjusted gross incomes up to $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for married couples. The benefit phases out for incomes over $99,000 for individuals and $198,000 for married couples.


The direct financial assistance will be based on 2019 tax returns, if they have been filed and if not, on 2018 returns. Payments for those who provided direct deposit information with their tax return could begin by the middle of April. Individuals who receive Social Security, but do not file taxes, also will receive this relief.

In addition to the CARES Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides relief for employees and families who have additional caregiving or child-care needs as a result of the pandemic.

Businesses with fewer than 500 employees are required to provide two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave related to COVID-19 at full pay (up to $511 per day for an individual who is ill or $200 per day to care for a family member) and 12 weeks of paid family leave to parents caring for children whose schools have closed. The first two weeks would be unpaid or covered by paid sick leave, and the remaining 10 weeks would be paid at 2/3 salary, up to $200 per day. Employers with fewer than 50 employees can apply for a hardship exemption.

In addition, there will be a temporary increase in funding for Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), access to free testing for those enrolled in federal healthcare exchanges and for those without health insurance, and increased funding for federal food security programs, such as SNAP and WIC.  Work and employment training requirements for these programs also are suspended if an individual is jobless as a result of the pandemic.  

EDUCATION FUNDING

The CARES Act provides almost $31 billion for education nationally, split between higher education and K-12 schools, to assist with coronavirus-related expenditures, such as school closures, remote learning, technology support, and teacher costs.

Maryland is expected to receive $207 million in K-12 funding formula grants for its local education agencies (in Maryland, counties). Congress requires that these local agencies share a portion equitably with Catholic and other nonpublic school students and teachers in the jurisdictions. The distribution will be determined in consultation with nonpublic school representatives. 

The same requirement is in place for a discretionary fund being provided to state governors.  Maryland also is expected to receive more than $183 million in direct federal aid for higher education, and $45 million in discretionary education grants through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.

 STATE ASSISTANCE

On March 23, Governor Larry Hogan announced that the State of Maryland would provide an additional $175 million of relief to individual workers, businesses, and nonprofits affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This includes a $7 million layoff-aversion fund for businesses and workers that can be tapped for technological resources to allow employees to work from home, and other measures to mitigate potential layoffs.

The Maryland Department of Commerce will oversee two programs totaling $125 million:

  • $75 million loan program for small businesses to help them stay afloat during the pandemic, with loans of up to $50,000. 
  • $50 million grant fund that provides grants of up to $10,000 for small businesses and nonprofits, with fewer than 50 employees. The fund includes $1 million dedicated to non-profits, to provide working capital for operational expenditures.
Read more

COVID-19 resource hub from the Maryland Catholic Conference

The restrictions on outside activities were tightened in Maryland on March 31 as part of the state's effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. In response, the Maryland Catholic Conference has created a COVID-19 resource hub, with links for spiritual resources and online Masses, as well as government information and resources.

"With a changing situation and all but those performing essential activities staying at home, we wanted to create a place where Catholics in Maryland could connect more deeply with their faith and also access accurate and current government information," said Jenny Kraska, executive director for the Maryland Catholic Conference. "Our COVID-19 hub includes links to the three (arch)dioceses that serve Maryland, online Mass directories, places to give and receive assistance, Catholic health care and pregnancy assistance options, and government data from several state and county offices."

The resource hub also includes links to popular resources from national Catholic publishers and organizations that are offering free access to dozens of resources in English and Spanish to help parishioners during this stressful time. We will continue to update the page with new information as it becomes available.

Visit the COVID-19 hub HERE.

Read more

BOOST application deadline extended to June 1

The deadline to apply for a BOOST scholarship was extended to Monday, June 1, 2020. The original deadline was Friday, April 24, at midnight. The scholarships, available to qualifying low-income students, will assist parents in sending their children to a non-public school for the 2020-21 school year. The Maryland Department of Education announced the new date on April 1, while also noting that program administrators will continue to monitor coronavirus developments, should additional adjustments be necessary. 

"As of today, the application deadline for BOOST has not changed. We encourage parents to fill out their applications as soon as possible. This program is a great opportunity for families whose children currently attend public school, as well as those with children in a Catholic school who are struggling with tuition," said Garrett O'Day, deputy director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. He also shared the list of schools that are eligible to participate in BOOST for the next school year. See the list HERE

Approximately $7.5 million in scholarships is expected to be awarded by the State of Maryland through BOOST next year.

Since BOOST was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2016, the state has awarded more than 10,000 scholarships, totaling upwards of $24 million, to students to attend a nonpublic that fits their educational needs. 

Apply for BOOST here: marylandpublicschools.org/pages/boost/index.aspx

 

Read more