It’s hard to keep faith alive when the pandemic is preventing gatherings at places of worship, but religious leaders in northern Etobicoke are finding ways to help their congregations to connect, spiritually, if not physically.

Churches are facing many challenges due to the pandemic. The capacity has been limited to 10 people, and services and events have been canceled.

As a result of health concerns, many religious clubs have been completely canceled or moved to an online format including youth ministry, choir, seniors club, rosary, coffee Sunday and the teaching of the sacraments.

Simple activities such as shaking hands, hugging and having face to face contact and conversation with other parishioners are not possible, making it more difficult for many to keep their faith strong.

Anna Betro, the youth minister at All Saints Church, experienced these changes first hand.

“This past year has been very difficult for us as Catholics. So much has changed: we are not able to gather together in our church, our youth gatherings have been suspended and our catechism teaching in preparation for the sacraments has moved from in person to virtual learning and we have lost the ability to meet in person as a community of faith,” said Betro.

Even with these challenges, churches are working hard to keep their congregations connected.

With most in person services being canceled, many churches, synagogues and temples have resorted to live streaming their services online. Central synagogue has weekly live streams online 6 p.m. Fridays and 9:30 a.m. Saturdays.

Parishioners at some Catholic churches in northern Etobicoke can access scheduled masses, evensong and other church events by searching for specific church names on YouTube.

In other cases, some places of worship may post recorded live streams on their website to watch at whatever time is convenient.

There are still some services on location available to the public.

Some places of worship have office hours at reduced times.

In addition, most churches that are a part of the archdiocese of Toronto have been given permission to administer Communion.

Priests will be administering Communion to the faithful, with no more than 10 people inside the church (including the priest) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Sunday at most locations in the city.

Parishioners are asked to enter the church from one door, walk directly to the Altar to receive Communion, have a short prayer and then leave the church immediately after from another door. This will allow the next group to come in and repeat the steps with no physical interaction between the groups. No one will be allowed to remain inside the church.

A sense of community and belonging is missing for many people in the city as religion allowed for the gathering of family, friends and neighbours to celebrate something they all believed in at least once a week.

Nick Mossa, a regular parishioner at All Saints Catholic Church in Etobicoke, feels the loss of the religious community. It doesn’t fill the hole in people’s hearts, as the community isn’t worshipping together. “We have a vibrant parish so not being together is just not the same,” said Mossa.Nick and Mariangela inside church

Nick and Mariangela Mossa, Mossa photo

“We miss the social interactions after mass – stopping outside to say hello, seeing how everyone is doing often with a smile and a laugh. Of course we can pray at home with our own family, but it’s different coming together as a faith community united, and praying together,” said Mossa.

Many people are stuck at home during the pandemic, making do with what they have.

There are many things that members of the community can do to keep their faith strong during these uncertain times.

Activities such as reading religious books, praying the rosary and praying for family and friends as well as the end to this pandemic, are good ways to practice religion.

“We watch mass on TV and even try to walk to our church, All Saints, as often as we can. We stop in front of the many holy statues there to say a little prayer. We also call and check up on our priests and neighbours in the area to see how they’re doing and if they need anything,” said Mossa.

Many religious radio channels, websites and programs exist to support the faith of the community during the pandemic.

Nick and his wife Mariangela give lots of teachings and prayers for the Catholic community.

“Something else we do to stay close to our faith is hosting a monthly internet program at The program is called Jesus With Us: Reflections of Joy. It airs every second Wednesday of the month. We do a lot of research and preparation before we record the show. We are always learning more about our Catholic faith,” said Mossa.

There are still some challenges that members of the community face including those who do not have access to the internet, possibly due to financial issues or a lack of technological knowledge, leaving many members of the community feeling left out.

Previously when case counts were better, the capacity at public places of worship was at 30 per cent. This allowed for public gatherings with physical distancing and masks, but with case counts rising as winter continues, this is no longer the case.

All places of worship will continue to be closed to the public for gatherings until further notice, according to the Ontario health guidelines.

It is very important to keep your faith alive during these times. It gives the community hope, unity and love.