SPRING VALLEY – Last January, Santa Sophia Parish began an entire year dedicated to the theme of “Marriage and Family Life.”
But after many of its planned activities were curtailed by the coronavirus, the parish has decided to carry over that theme into the new year.
The year was divided into quarters, each with its own theme, including: Family Prayer, Marriage, Parenting, and Healing. Four teams of parishioners were tasked with organizing events and activities for the quarters.
But, because of the pandemic and lockdowns, only the first quarter was able to proceed as planned. One of the planned events in the second quarter was salvaged by transitioning to a virtual format. The final two quarters were postponed entirely.
“We need to wait and see when things are going to open up, and we might revisit and change some of the programs,” said Father Devdas Masillamony, pastor of the parish, which is home to more than 1,400 families.
By all accounts, however, the first quarter dedicated to Family Prayer was a rousing success.
One of the highlights was the introduction of a prayer card for families, composed by the Santa Sophia Stewardship Council. Some 1,000 cards, with a depiction of the Holy Family on the front, were printed and distributed to parishioners and inserted at the back of each hymnal, so that parishioners could recite the prayer both at home and as a congregation just before the final blessing at each weekend Mass.
The prayer proved so popular that an additional 1,000 cards had to be ordered, said Kareen Georgee, a parish staffer who led the team organizing the Family Prayer activities.
Families also continued reciting the prayer at home during the three months when public Masses were suspended to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Monthly flyers were prepared for January, February and March of 2020, featuring suggested family activities and highlighting important feast days.
Last January’s recommendations included a home blessing in honor of the feast of the Epiphany, devoting 10 minutes to reflecting on a Scriptural passage as a family, sharing a family meal at least once a week, and observing the feast of the Baptism of the Lord with stories and photos from family baptisms.
Plans for the second quarter dedicated to Marriage were drastically changed with the onset of the pandemic. Among other things, during that period, the parish had hoped to introduce Witness to Love, a program that pairs an engaged couple with a mentor couple from the same parish who assists them in preparing for marriage and serves as a model of married life. But that, too, had to be postponed.
Still, about 20 parish couples participated in an all-day, marriage-enrichment program via Zoom. It was organized by Heidi and Nahme Chokeir, parishioners who are actively involved in Marriage Encounter. Some of the participating couples wrote testimonies for the parish bulletin, indicating how helpful the program was for their marriage and how timely it was during this period of lockdown and isolation.
Georgee said the marriage-enrichment program was so well-organized and beneficial for so many that the parish might offer it again in the future.
The third quarter, with a focus on Parenting, was expected to include guest speakers on a variety of topics.
The parish had planned to conclude the year dedicated to marriage and family life with three months on the theme of Healing. The closing event was to be a healing Mass, including opportunities for reconciliation and special healing prayers.
Both the third and fourth quarters, as well as some of the activities initially planned for the second quarter, will be held in 2021.
The yearlong “Marriage and Family Life” theme was inspired by a diocesan synod held on the same subject in 2016. Afterward, the parish had been one of five pilot parishes entrusted with implementing the synod’s proposals.
For the parish, this was the second consecutive year dedicated to a theme. The year 2018 had been dedicated to “Hospitality,” which included events like “Name Tag Sunday,” during which parishioners wore name tags to Mass and to the reception that followed to get better acquainted.
Father Masillamony is a fan of the idea of annual themes, believing that it provides the parish with a goal for the year. But he acknowledged that simply picking a theme does little, if it isn’t promoted and accompanied by organized activities.
Father Masillamony and Georgee commented that parishes have many resources and parishioners have a desire to help. They encourage pastors, staff and the laity to find creative ways of using their talents to reach others.