By Sofia Rossi
Sofia Rossi: How has the outbreak of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County affected the St. Mary’s Catholic community of Los Gatos?
Jane Najour: [It was] unsettling in the beginning – the closing of our church, no meetings or gatherings. Our Diocese closed schools before the LG School District [on Mar. 21], a hard decision to make. The school immediately initiated online learning, which is going really well. Classroom meetings take place on different digital platforms. The lower grades – kindergarten through fourth grade – have the teachers post assignments where students can reply/upload a picture of their project or a video. For the upper grades five through eight, it is like a regular classroom, with everyone in attendance [for] class and project discussions, etc.
S: Are you finding that parishioners are experiencing any particular challenges during this time?
J: Yes, grocery shopping. We have quite a few seniors in our Parish population. [Everyone is] trying to maintain the shelter in place while not able to pick up necessities. I handle the outreach for our Parish, so we have volunteers who will grocery shop/run errands for this group as needed. [We are] making phone calls to stay in touch with our seniors living alone.
S: How are Catholics fulfilling their religious duties to attend Sunday mass, take part in community service, and meet Lenten obligations while having to shelter in place?
J: We have a regular community of parishioners who follow [our online daily] Mass. We are sending out web-based lenten prayer URLs for their spiritual needs. [More information can be found on the St. Mary’s website, listed under “Live Streams and Mass Archives.”]
S: How have traditions – such as the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick – changed amid the coronavirus?
J: We have a “Spiritual Communion” prayer that Catholics recite for the Eucharist. Our Priest will still do the Sacrament – Anointing of the Sick. The Priest has very specific guidelines to follow, such as changing his clothing after the visit.
S: St. Mary’s sees a wide range of generations coming together, often shaking hands and embracing to show love and support for one another. How have such practices changed to adjust to social distancing and evidence that older populations are at a higher risk of severe ailment?
J: During any flu season, our Bishop will notify us not to have Communion under both species. We do not drink from the [Communion] cup during this specified timeframe that is told to our churches. Holy water was removed from the entrances to our church, due to contamination of too many fingers touching the holy water. The Priests made announcements not to shake hands. [These measures were all taken] before the pandemic.
S: COVID-19 has undoubtedly resulted in debilitating financial consequences. How is St. Mary’s working to provide resources for the most vulnerable populations during this time?
J: We have an Outreach Ministry, which we hold a collection for each year. Our parishioners are very generous.
We are awaiting and ready to respond to an uptick in calls for assistance. We know our Santa Clara County non-profits who assist and also refer clients to us. We require those in need to be in our LG zip codes. If they are not, we refer them to the Catholic Church that is in their zip code. Our churches have a SC County wide database to track these clients, so we don’t duplicate our resources to them. We help with rent assistance, PG&E, etc., depending on needs. We [also] work hand-in-hand with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in LG. [We offer] Tuesday Outreach there with meals (currently to-go meals) and gift cards. Also, we check in monthly with our Los Gatos Clergy group, working together to assist with planning for the needs of the LG community.
S: The Catholic Church is strongly founded on the idea of community spirit. On Mar. 15, Pope Francis said from Vatican City, “In this pandemic situation, in which we find ourselves living more or less isolated, we are invited to rediscover and deepen the value of the communion which unites all members of the Church.” How is St. Mary’s working to preserve a sense of community without a physical congregation?
J: Our message to our parishioners is that we are spiritually close while we are physically apart. This is our goal, and will be in touch with ways to [maintain spiritual closeness]. We are working hard to provide ways for [parishioners] to remain connected to their faith.
S: What is one piece of advice the Church can offer people during this difficult time?
J: Even in this difficult time, there is evidence of so much good. Online participation is so encouraging. God is good. Today we are learning, God is not limited by his Sacraments. The Holy Spirit overcomes our distances, and prompts and enriches our prayer. We encourage this personal and shared prayer.