By Ann Marie Foley - 16 April, 2020
“The idea was to give people a lift as time went on. That becomes more and more important as people are beginning to feel cabin fever,” said Rathdowney parish priest Fr Martin Delaney.
A Laois community, breaking the monotony of the COVID-19 lockdown with weekly concerts, has had a member of The High Kings perform in the parish church and is attracting hundreds of international viewers online.
The concert, held every Tuesday at lunchtime in the Most Holy Trinity Church, Rathdowney, is filmed and streamed live on the internet. The first starred one of the members of The High Kings singing group, Paul O’Brien, who had to cut short an American tour and return home to Laois because of COVID-19. Other local artists such as John Kelly and Martin Delaney have featured since, and Damien Bowe is to sing on 21 April 2020.
“We’ve had three concerts so far and each watched by more than 500 people, and they love it,” Fr Martin Delaney, PP, Rathdowney Parish, told Catholicireland.net. He explained he received a surprise telephone call during the last concert. “I was listening to him (online) and I got a call from an English number and they said ‘We can’t hear him, can you turn up his microphone volume?’” said Fr Delaney.
The parish has a tradition of organising Christmas concerts in the church as fundraisers, so it seemed natural to issue a call for local artists to come and sing or play trad, spiritual, or local music.
“The idea was to give people a lift as time went on. That becomes more and more important as people are beginning to feel cabin fever. People are very vulnerable and frightened. I would have had that feeling from the beginning,” said Fr Delaney.
He said that those parishioners he would normally visit on his ‘First Friday’ rounds are fearful, not about catching COVID-19 but about how their health needs will be met if the health services are overwhelmed. “But older people also have resilience because they have experienced hardship before. Not this exactly, but those who experienced something like ‘the Emergency’, they know how to go without,” he said.
Fr Delaney has also followed the example of a priest in the north of Italy, Fr Giuseppe Corbari, who, when his church was closed, kept ‘visual’ contact with his parishioners by sticking photographs of them to the empty pews.
Fr Delaney had lots of photographs of parishioners, mostly taken by local photographer Mary Delaney at parish events. He and Maureen in the parish office enlarged and laminated the photographs and ‘assigned’ each to a pew in the church in Rathdowney, which is part of the Diocese of Ossory.
The photos were there for Holy Week and as Fr Delaney celebrated the various liturgies, which were broadcast via the webcam, he was able to look down at the many smiling faces. He is inviting anyone else who would like to be added to this ‘congregation’ to email their own photos to him at [email protected] He has also issued a special invitation to the First Communion classes in Rathdowney and Errill to send in photos of themselves, reassuring them that their special day will be celebrated at some point in the future.
At the time of writing, Fr Delaney had 200 photos and, as many were of families, these represented up to 400 people. With the help of a parishioner, he hopes to make a video of this ‘congregation’. He feels that the website and webcam are vital at this time as the live streaming of Mass, Rosary and the concerts help people to feel connected to the parish and, as he puts it, to feel that “the parish is serving them”.
There are more than 100 log-ons for the daily Rosary at 5 p.m., and this could mean that double the number participate as there is often more than one person at each computer or digital device used to log on. “People are wanting something, I think the Church can respond to that. It allows people to put a structure on their day,” said Fr Delaney.
Normally there were 25-30 people present in the church for daily Mass, but now up to 200 participate virtually. Many are from the parish, but others are from neighbouring parishes and elsewhere. More than 1,000 people participated during each Easter service via the webcam and streaming.
The lunchtime concert takes place at 1 p.m. each Tuesday. See www.rathdowneyparish.ie.