Father Tom Kleinschmidt from St Boniface in Southampton talks about his parish, his own suffering during Covid and his hopes for the new year.
Investing in the Individual
It may have been a year of isolation, but St Boniface parish sought to reflect Christ in the Eucharist, making this year about ‘personal encounter’.
“When we first went into lockdown back in March” explained Father Tom, “it was very difficult to adjust, but what we started to do was to contact every single person in our address list.”
“It was a beautiful initiative” he continued, “we had a team of parishioners calling everyone, and because they were self-isolating they were so happy to receive word from the parish and know that we were praying for them and likewise, that we were counting on their prayers.”
“When churches were allowed to open for private prayer back in July, we had a fantastic team of about 50 stewards, we had the Church open every day and I would expose the Blessed Sacrament and offer confession”.
“It was so beautiful to see all the people coming back to prayer and adoration and the number of confessions was overwhelming. Then when we were allowed to have public Masses, we multiplied them each week. We had thirteen Masses, so even with social distancing people were still able to come back”. Father Tom noticed a renewed thirst in the hearts of his parishioners; he described the ‘desert’ of lockdown as a “grace we can build on; to see it as an opportunity to realise that we have such a thirst for the Lord, for the Eucharist, and knowing that the mass should never be taken for granted.”
“It is a special, special grace to come to Mass” he concluded.
Father Tom was not without his own suffering during lockdown: “It all started during Lent” he reflected, “as a priest I could really identify myself with Jesus in his passion, Jesus left alone, Jesus who yearned, or as Mother Theresa said – thirsted for love and for souls – the sense of what he must have suffered in his Sacred Heart”.
He continued: “and then of course knowing that people wanted to be at mass, sensing their thirst, the suffering of the whole mystical body yearning for her bridegroom. As a priest you live both sides; we were not deprived the Eucharist because we could celebrate Mass, but I could sense this yearning of the bride for her groom. I was participating in both the pain of the bride and the pain of Christ”.
With lockdown II at an end, St Boniface enter advent with renewed vigour. “We have an Advent & Christmas team who have started up various initiatives” he said, “one of which is called ‘share advent stories’, that is, posters and recordings made by parishioners are being put on our website and Facebook page, summing up how each person has personally experienced the coming of God during this difficult time”.
“We are also creating Christmas cards for those who have been away for a while, like some of our elderly in self-isolation, and I will be doing an evening mediation every day of advent that will go on Facebook, which people can do live or look back at over the week.”
New Year – New Hope
As we move into a new year, Father Tom hopes for St Boniface to grow with a missionary heart, “to discern together what God is showing us as a parish family, and then with the PPC, to pursue this by creating various teams to address those needs of the parish.”
“It’s a dawn of hope” he reflects, “of new growth as we enter the new year”.
“Pope Francis has really emphasised not just to maintain things, but to become missionary within the parish itself and then to reach out to others, to the poor, the isolated, people with addictions etc. and there are many opportunities for us here in Southampton.