Home Breaking News At one London church, a small but grateful Christmas gathering

At one London church, a small but grateful Christmas gathering

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Serena Marotta Parishioners gather ahead of the 10:30 a.m. mass on Christmas Day at St. Michael's Catholic church in London's Old North neighbourhood. People were masked and seated six-feet apart in the pews. (Serena Marotta/The London Free Press) Parishioners gather ahead of the 10:30 a.m. mass on Christmas Day at St. Michael’s Catholic church in London’s Old North neighbourhood. People were masked and seated six-feet apart in the pews. (Serena Marotta/The London Free Press)

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At St. Michael’s Parish on Cheapside Street, nearly 100 people gathered inside for a quiet mid-morning Christmas mass as record-breaking numbers of COVID-19 cases sweep through London.

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“We, as a people, are community-minded. And so when we celebrate, it’s good to gather, even if the numbers are small, and to lift each other with the hope that the Christmas season brings,” Father Daniel Bombardier said ahead of the Catholic mass on Saturday.

More than 120 people registered in advance for the 10:30 a.m. service – including a family of 10 – but not everybody showed. Following the protocol set by the Diocese of London for the 100 or so Catholic churches in the region, parishioners were screened at the door for symptoms of COVID-19, and seated six-feet apart.

“People are cautious,” Bombardier said. ”The church is very safe. We maintain the protocols that are being asked of us.”

The Middlesex-London Health Unit reported single-day COVID case records for three straight days this week, Wednesday through Friday, with counts of 228, 263 and 335, respectively. Officials have acknowledged struggling to keep pace with the virus’s spread – so those numbers are likely low.

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There was no local COVID-19 caseload update on Christmas Day. There have been no recent fatalities linked to the virus, and the local death toll sits at 257.

All staff and volunteers in both the Catholic and Anglican dioceses are required to have their COVID-19 vaccine doses, but parishioners are not. Many local churches have been offering online streaming options for parishioners throughout the pandemic.

Debbie Walsh, pastoral minister at St. Michael’s, said COVID has created “some frustration,” but most people are “just really glad to gather.” While many feel safe because of their vaccinations, she said, others are nervous.

“We’re definitely weary,” Walsh said. “But I think something that’s very unique to this parish, is it has a wonderful spirit. They feel called to community.”

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The community aspect to one of the holiest days of the year drew many parishioners to St. Michael’s Christmas morning.

“I feel absolutely safe. I wouldn’t miss it. I would be determined to go anyway, even if there was additional restrictions,” said one parishioner, Teresa, who didn’t want her last name used.

Teresa said she goes to mass at Christ the King every week, but with half-capacity restrictions placed on churches, she couldn’t book a spot there.

“I believe in God, and I believe in the faith of everybody. So, I think it’s nice to be together especially on this most joyous occasion,” Teresa said. “It’s actually very welcoming. It’s joyous.”

Theresa O’Leary was tasked with screening parishioners as they arrived for Christmas mass at St. Michael’s Catholic church on Cheapside Street in London. Photo taken on Dec. 25, 2021. Serena Marotta/The London Free Press Theresa O’Leary was tasked with screening parishioners as they arrived for Christmas mass at St. Michael’s Catholic church on Cheapside Street in London. Photo taken on Dec. 25, 2021. Serena Marotta/The London Free Press

Parish council chairperson Theresa O’Leary was one of the 13 volunteers responsible for screening visitors at St. Michael’s on Christmas Day. She described churchgoers as “respectful to the protocols” required.

With the dedicated few who came, it was a quiet Christmas – much like last year’s, Walsh said.

“We miss the families, the little kids aren’t coming anymore,” Walsh said, adding: “We’ll be back.”

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