SAN DIEGO — The diocese zoomed into a new way to bring the faithful together in the era of a pandemic.
Unlike passively viewing a livestreamed service, individuals and entire families from the cultures in the diocese actively joined this year’s Sunday Pentecost Mass using the Zoom videoconferencing app. They formed a congregation that eagerly listened to Bishop Robert W. McElroy, sang along with the music ministers and led the Universal Prayers.
It’s was the first time the diocese interacted with the faithful this way, a technical feat that challenged various ministries to create this opportunity.
“The Bishop was really talking to us,” said Jim Moore, one of the participants in the Mass. “I thought it was wonderful at the end, when we spontaneously waved at him as he came down the aisle and he waved back. It felt personal.”
The Pentecost Mass for All Cultures almost didn’t happen.
In April, Father Michael Pham informed the leaders of the diocese’s cultural communities that this year’s Mass could not be held as planned, given COVID-19 restrictions. He leads the diocesan office that organizes these communities.
Their leaders resisted the idea of cancelling the Mass — and urged the diocese to use technology to celebrate it with them.
“I was surprised by the many cultural leaders who wanted to have this gathering of all cultures with our Bishop via Zoom,” he recalled.
Like other Catholics, they had been viewing Masses video-streamed through diocesan and parishes websites, YouTube and Facebook. But they wanted to more than view this year’s Pentecost Mass. They wanted to be a part of it, like they had done the previous two Masses, which drew 1,600 in 2018 and more than 2,300 last year.
The diocese considered their request for a few days and came up with an answer: “Let’s do it.”
Charlotte Fajardo, who coordinates the communities’ events, sees this moment as a “game-changer.” The race was on to figure out how 20 cultures could participate in the Mass through Zoom.
The diocese set up a 185-inch screen a few rows from the altar in the chapel of the Pastoral Center. The Mass was presented via video-stream on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, through the diocese’s website sdcatholic.org.
During the Mass, the screen showed the 24 participating individuals and families in their Zoom windows, which made up the congregation.
The Bishop was able to see the couples and families on the screen, many dressed in their traditional attire, and they were able to see him and the other participants of the Mass through their computer or smartphone.
The diocese’s chancellor, María Olivia “Marioly” Galván proclaimed the first reading in Spanish and Bernadette Aloese the second one in Samoan. Father Pham proclaimed the Gospel.
Everyone recited the Profession of the Faith and the Creed, the voices from the Zoom call and the chapel blending together.
That was followed by 14 community members leading the Universal Prayers in their distinct languages. They spoke in Arameic, Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesia, Triginya, Lao, Korean, Irish, English, Tongan, Italian, Mandarin, German, and Tamil.
Then the bishop incensed the offerings, the altar and his concelebrants, Father Pham and Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan. He walked in front of the Zoom windows to incense the congregation, symbolically sanctifying the members.
“Their reactions were very moving because they did not expect the Bishop to be so close to them,” Father Pham would later recall. “It was a beautiful moment.”
In his Homily, the Bishop urged the congregation to resist the urge to turn inward, particularly in the isolating days of the pandemic.
“All of us are called now not to be burdened by inwardness, which leads us to despondency and despair, but rather to understand God is calling us today, and every day, even amidst the hardship of this pandemic. God is calling us to embrace the world.
“And to understand that the beauty of families and friendships and of Creation, and of the wonders that God has put all around us, are still there. And we will embrace them in their fullness again, and we will see them as God’s grace made manifest among us.
“Let us like the Apostles, be transformed on this Pentecost Day, and accept the grace of the Holy Spirit, calling us to look outward into the world.”
Jim Moore, co-chair of the Pastoral Council at Mission San Luis Rey parish, said the Mass underscored that “we are a universal church.”
Semret Kelit and her entire family, whose roots are in Eritrea, participated in the Mass. Her husband, Kidane, read one of the Universal Prayers in their native language, Triginya.
She admitted that she had been “a little apprehensive” how everything would come together. But she was glad that the cultural leaders, mostly immigrants, had pressed the diocese to use technology to allow them to be a part of the Pentecost Mass.
“It says a lot of what we can do in our Church if given an opportunity to participate,” she said. “We can contribute. We can implement. We can be part of change.”
Father Pham noted that people of distinct races, ethnicities and languages don’t seem to trust one another these days.
“The gathering of all cultures in the Pentecost celebration tells us that we can come together and be united in Jesus Christ,” he said. “It is so wonderful that people of diverse cultures could come together to share the fabric of faith in Christ with each other.”
Mass for All Cultures
The video of San Diego Diocese’s Pentecost Mass for All Cultures may be viewed through the diocese’s website, sdcatholic.org. Information about the diocese’s cultural communities is available in the page sdcatholic.org/culturaldiversity.