By Ann Marie Foley - 11 June, 2020
Fr Thornton said that standing outside the church collecting Trócaire boxes from passing cars was not the most unusual thing that he has done in recent times, as with COVID-19 “unusual” is the new normal.
A north Co. Dublin priest hit the headlines when he arranged a drive-thru drop-off for Trócaire boxes. Fr Paul Thornton was delighted to collect 60 boxes and to be told by many other parishioners that they had donated online.
“We got a better response than I thought we were going to get, and they [boxes] are still coming in, and it raised people’s consciousness,” he told catholicireland.net.
Fr Thornton had planned to pilot a mission retreat in his Brackenstown Parish in Swords, Co. Dublin, which would highlight the work of Trócaire, but that was cancelled as a result of COVID-19.
“I was very conscious that they need their boxes back,” he said. He has arranged for Trócaire boxes to go directly to the charity.
His initiative was featured on RTÉ News, Virgin One News, the Irish Times and the Irish Independent, attracting much needed publicity for Trócaire, which like so many other charities has suffered from lack of donations during COVID-19 restrictions. Trócaire has had a decline of 60 per cent in donations to its Lenten Appeal.
Fr Thornton told catholicireland.net that standing outside the church collecting Trócaire boxes from passing cars was not the most unusual thing that he has done in recent times, as with COVID-19 “unusual” is the new normal.
“Some of the more unusual things are the sadder things like going to nursing homes to do the Sacrament of the Sick through the window,” he said. “Unfortunately one of our nursing homes [in the parish] was one of the first clusters. It was tough knowing the residents and knowing the staff. They were really put to the pin of their collar, but it is testament to their own professionalism they came through it,” he said.
Another unusual day was Good Friday, when Fr Thornton carried a cross to all the housing estates in his parish. This happened live via Facetime (online), but parishioners were glad to see their priest arrive outside in their own estates too.
“Good Friday was around the start of the severe lockdown and it meant a lot to people that we went and said a prayer at their estate. I think that was something they were searching for,” he recalled.
Another unusual “hit” with parishioners was rosary and night prayer available online at 8.30 in the evening.
“That is the hardest part of the day because they are heading into the night time and that is when the loneliness and isolation really hits. To join with the members of their parish and people around them in a moment of prayer gave them a lot of peace,” he said.
Overall, using internet and online facilities has made a huge difference and has helped to connect with people in what Fr Thornton calls “a whole new way” but “a very personal way too”.
As the restrictions ease and churches open for services, the next phase will be challenging, for example limiting the number of people who might want to attend Mass. Each new phase brings new challenges.
Trócaire was among the charities that has found fundraising a huge challenge. It has launched an appeal for people to add up the money collected during Lent and to donate by post, by phone or online. Some parishes have special arrangements to collect the boxes.
Bishop William Crean, Chairman of Trócaire, wrote in support of the appeal, stating that the charity’s biggest fundraising campaign has been severely affected all over Ireland by COVID-19, with so many unable to return their Trócaire boxes.
“Trócaire has never faced a humanitarian emergency in every country in which it works at the same time. But there is hope to be found in the work the agency is able to do thanks to support from people across the island of Ireland,” he said.
Around the world, Trócaire teams have been working with communities to raise awareness about handwashing and social distancing through local media. It is also supporting handwashing stations in villages and providing hygiene and medical equipment as well as seeds, food, kitchen equipment and critical savings and loans support to help families cope through the lockdowns.
Trócaire’s Lenten Appeal raises approximately €8 million each year. Two-thirds of this comes from the boxes in schools and homes, and donations are slow to get back to Trócaire this year because of restrictions.
“Thousands of boxes are sitting in homes across Ireland. Unless these generous donations are returned, we won’t be able to provide life-saving support to some of the poorest people in the world,” said Caoimhe de Barra, CEO, Trócaire. “We are asking our supporters to please ‘make your Trócaire box count’.”
Trócaire is responding to the COVID-19 crisis in all 20 countries where it provides support. The charity is in all regions, including 11 countries in Africa. Approximately 196,000 cases have been confirmed on the continent so far.
She thanked everyone for their contribution and for getting behind the appeal.
For more information, visit: https://www.trocaire.org/trocairebox.