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Year in review: 2020 was about the pandemic, but held much more

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The coronavirus pandemic and its repercussions dominated this year’s news, but the diocese also celebrated ordinations, built and renovated churches and schools, mourned lost loved ones and marked important milestones.

In January and February, the coronavirus had not yet hit Virginia when thousands participated in the March for Life Jan. 24 in Washington and the state’s March for Life Feb. 13 in Richmond.

But in March, churches and schools could see COVID-19 coming and began making plans. When public Masses were suspended March 16 to slow the spread of the coronavirus, many churches began livestreaming to keep the faithful connected.

In preparation for Holy Week, the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington was wired with high-speed Ethernet cable, hidden in the sanctuary’s pillars, to accommodate the digital crowds. Thousands tuned in to livestreamed Masses and other services, including about 13,000 on Easter Sunday.

As the spring wore on, the days and months blended together and people tried to figure out how to carry on with life during a pandemic. Many downsized or postponed major events such as weddings, or invited friends and relatives to attend virtually.

By the end of May, some public Masses resumed with social distancing, masks and other precautions. Many graduation ceremonies were canceled or went virtual. Across the diocese, many lost their jobs; Catholic Charities and parish food pantries were inundated with an increase in need. The food pantry at Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Arlington went from supplying 200 to 600 families a week and kept up with demand, thanks to several large donations.

In June, more Masses resumed, and the ordination of five new priests for the diocese proceeded June 6 as planned, but safety precautions limited the number of people who could attend. Throughout the summer, the number of those affected by the coronavirus across the nation and the diocese continued to climb, and many suffered and died.

In late August, the diocese announced that its Catholic schools would offer in-person and hybrid classes in the fall, and that it was launching a new all-virtual school, St. Isidore of Seville. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge blessed the new campus of St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly and the new plaza and atrium at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington in September.

In October, Bishop Burbidge celebrated the long-awaited Chrism Mass, which had been postponed from Holy Thursday. The Oct. 5 Mass was attended by 115 priests of the diocese who renewed their vows; more than 1,500 watched the livestream. Though muted, other celebrations went on as well; Bishop Burbidge celebrated a Mass Oct. 10 marking the 225th anniversary of the oldest parish in the diocese, the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria. Also in October, Bishop Burbidge named 14 Black leaders from the diocese to an advisory council on racism and led a Holy Hour for Peace and Unity Oct. 28, ahead of a divisive presidential election.

In November, Bishop Burbidge dedicated the new St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax. The new church was one of 59 construction projects in the diocese, for a total of $138 million in new buildings and renovations this past year. The new Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic in Woodbridge opened Nov. 21. The diocese mourned the passing of beloved priests, women religious and laypeople, including Msgr. Robert E. Avella, who retired this summer after serving as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Arlington, and Father Michael J. Dobbins, pastor of St. John Bosco Church in Woodstock.

In December, Catholic Charities president and CEO Art Bennett retired after a decade leading the diocese’s charitable arm. Bishop Burbidge was scheduled to celebrate several Christmas Masses: a Vigil Mass at 4:30 p.m. at St. Timothy Church in Chantilly Dec. 24; a Mass during the Night at 10 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More Dec. 24 and a Mass during the Day at Blessed Sacrament Church, Alexandria, at 10 a.m. Dec. 25.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020