2020: A Year In Review

December 22, 2020

A large mural, sponsored by the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary, depicts a hand holding a heart on the wall of the Catholic Newman Center at Texas Southern University in Houston. Some 120 youth helped paint the mural, as well as the art wall, nearby. The mural has drawn attention to the fight against racism as demonstrations rocked the nation during the summer of 2020. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

Maybe it’s a year we want to forget.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston witnessed tragedy and triumph throughout 2020. A worldwide pandemic. Wildfires. A charged election. The traumatic death of George Floyd. 30 named storms in a never-again hurricane season that got too close for comfort. Both students and grandparents joined the Zoom generation. Parents and their students’ teachers became computer techs overnight. Grocery stores, but different. Graduations, but different. Waiting, always waiting, but different.

But what wasn’t different? The unforgettable threads of resilience in every family, home, school, parish and every community working to persevere through 2020. Each wove a tapestry and story unlike any other, one connected by faith in Jesus Christ and His Church. 2020 showed the strength of an Archdiocese, and what holding fast to the Catholic faith can overcome.

Global pandemic upends communities

HOUSTON — Not long after ringing in the New Year, a new illness started to paralyze the world. When cases were confirmed in Houston, city officials were forced to shutdown the Houston Rodeo on March 9 just ahead of the Spring Break holiday.

Then, to tide an uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), as it would be dubbed, shutdowns were in order and schools closed, doing their best to home-school via the Internet. Seniors in high school took an especially hard hit as proms were canceled, and graduations were delayed or canceled. Weddings were postponed or moved into a new online format.

Nursing homes, like St. Dominic Village in the Texas Medical Center, made the difficult decision to close their campuses to visitors to safeguard vulnerable populations like their elderly residents.

By March 14, many parishes began streaming Masses live online. Then three days later, on March 18, public Masses in the Archdiocese were suspended due to a government mandate, though parishes could remain open for private prayer.

In April, parishes looked at livestream capabilities to broadcast weekend and daily Masses that priests were celebrating privately in chapels and the church sanctuary. Other church-related events were either canceled or offered online.

Agencies lead efforts to provide social services

As the shutdowns began, Archdiocesan agencies continued to provide needed assistance to thousands throughout Galveston-Houston, operating remotely.

As of Nov. 22, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston had distributed more than three million pounds of food to people needing food assistance since the pandemic began. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul continued to respond to calls, placing the greatest emphasis on individuals who needed food or shelter or whose utilities were about to be disconnected.

San José Clinic continued to provide medical care with COVID-19 protocols to ensure all patients that needed care would receive it.

Reaching the faithful

Ministries in the Archdiocese moved their conferences and workshops online to ensure the faithful, while at home, could still get the support they needed.

On March 19, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo opened a series of virtual spiritual reflections on the Feast of St. Joseph. The obligation to attend Mass was also suspended, which was expected continued for the duration of the pandemic. During Lent, priests around the Archdiocese filmed “Messages of Hope” for the faithful to see on the Archdiocesan website.

When a long-time Houston-area deacon died in March, Father Christian Bui, pastor at St. Edward Catholic Church in Spring, worked to ensure the graveside service was livestreamed for family who couldn’t attend due to travel restrictions.

In mid-April, at St. Vincent de Paul parish in Houston near the Texas Medical Center, Parochial Vicar Father David Hust set up a drive-through confessional in the church parking lot.

Wearing a face mask and waiting behind a veiled screen, Father Hust greeted penitents who remained in their cars, encouraging them to be loud with their confession. Social distancing ensured confession could remain private and anonymous if desired.

On Palm Sunday, Father Victor Perez at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Houston stood curbside distributing palms to the faithful. Also in April, Father Clint Ressler, pastor at St. Mary’s of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church in Texas City, took his 10-speed bicycle and visited church members at their homes. He mapped routes based on their addresses and then ran or biked to each home, depending on the weather.

Reopening in faith

In early June, churches could reopen at 25% capacity, and later that summer 50%, with social distancing guidelines and mask requirements in place. Livestreaming continued for those who were still unable to attend. Eventually confirmations, baptisms, funerals and weddings all returned.

In August, Catholic schools opened. Catholic school administrators and educators worked with families to ensure that students and staff had a safe and environment conducive to the continuity of education, according to school officials.

Then, the 2020 Archdiocesan White Mass gained new meaning this year, as hundreds of healthcare workers were prayed for and blessed when Daniel Cardinal DiNardo celebrated the annual Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on Oct. 17.

Testing resolve

Several parishes throughout the Archdiocese stepped up to host pop-up COVID-19 testing in coordination with the Harris County Public Health and City of Houston Health departments.

At Assumption Catholic Church near Houston’s Northside community, cars lined up for COVID-19 testing when the parish parking lot became a local testing center. St. Philip of Jesus Catholic Church, Holy Ghost Catholic Church, St. Leo the Great Catholic Church and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church served as pop-up testing locations.

In May, the Vietnamese Culture and Science Association of Houston coordinated testing at Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church in Houston to serve vulnerable Vietnamese-speaking populations.

Parishes have also offered needed community services by providing relief through rent assistance and groceries while also distributing masks.

Prayer, not violence: Parishes, clergy work to ‘stop the sin of racism’

HOUSTON — A nation that was already enduring the hardship of COVID-19 witnessed a horrifying incident played out on social media and televisions worldwide — the killing of Houstonian George Floyd.

The May 25 police-involved death of Floyd, an African American in Minneapolis who grew up in Houston, led to protests, violence and soul-searching locally and across the country.

A spiritual response

This year, in response to traumatic events affecting Houstonians, Cardinal DiNardo commissioned the Archdiocesan Disaster Spiritual Care ministry, comprised of 18 priests and 34 deacons who have agreed to be assigned as needed to shelters working in coordination with Red Cross and social services during hurricanes and other disasters,

hortly after Floyd’s death, the group, including Father Reginald Samuels, vicar for Catholics of African Descent, joined priests, deacons and laity, also came together to attend a candlelight vigil at Yates High School in Houston on behalf of former student Floyd on June 8.

During the Nov. 16 to 17 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall general meeting, which was conducted entirely online, the bishops added racial inequality to their four-year strategic plan, which is not scheduled to go into effect until January 2021.

The committee report said, “This tragic event and the public response in its aftermath left an indelible impression on the hearts and minds of citizens of the U.S. and the world. The callously cruel treatment of this man, which resulted in his death, shocked the consciences of the Church, its shepherds, Catholic faithful and all humanity.”

Under the priority of “Life and dignity of the human person: Serve the common good as the leaven in a free society,” a revised emphasis area is now proposed to read, “Work to heal the scourge of racism and religious intolerance.”

In prayer

In Houston, on June 27 and July 9, a group from St. Cyril of Alexandria Catholic Church stood near the corner of Westheimer and the Sam Houston Tollway to “be a visual reminder to the world that racism is a horrific sin.”

Deacon Bob Angelich, who was ordained in the Gary, Indiana, Diocese in 2003, said the group stood along Westheimer and Rogerdale Ave. for an hour with Prayer Not Violence T-shirts and signs that said, “Stop the Sin of Racism.”

Deacon Angelich began Prayer Not Violence while in Indiana. The horrific death compelled him to restart the ministry in Houston.

“The harsh reality of racism needed to be addressed. Racism in any form, whether it is physically violent or not, is wrong,” he said. “To God, all of racism is a sin. It is an evilness that takes the entire human family and willfully tries to fracture it apart.”

Neighbors help neighbors amid record hurricane season

HOUSTON — The year 2020 broke a new record for named storms, with 30 tropical storms or hurricanes forming in the Atlantic.

For the most part, Houston was spared, with Tropical Storm Beta being the closest to hit, which affected mostly the Beaumont and Sabine Pass.

Louisiana, on the other hand, had six hurricanes head in their direction, one, Laura, with devastating damage, and the other, Delta, to make it worse.

Just as the Cajun Navy fearlessly came to help Texas during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Houstonian’s didn’t wait to head to Lake Charles and bring supplies in the wake of Hurricane Laura.

Helping hands and supplies

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston continued to coordinate with their sister agencies in southeast Texas and Louisiana, asking for Houstonians to donate water to take to the affected region.

No stranger to hurricane relief, the Knights of Columbus of Galveston-Houston brought took six pallets of water to Lake Charles in coordination with Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, Archdiocesan director for the Secretariat of Social Concerns, and Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana (CCSL) the day after the storm hit Aug. 26.

Over the next week, thousands of supplies, including water, food, gas, construction and cleaning goods, were brought to the southeast Texas and Lake Charles-area to help with recovery and relief work.

A group from Council 8494 traveled to Sulfur, Louisiana, helping to provide more than 500 meals for several days to aid workers and people affected by Laura.

A group from Council 3217 traveled to Lake Charles to help elderly and widowed Knights with cleaning debris from their homes. Groups in Nederland received more than 300 cases of water, dry goods and hygiene supplies from Council 6878.

Members of the Knights of Peter Claver and Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary from across the Gulf Coast trekked to Lake Charles, Louisiana on Sept. 12 to deliver supplies to relief efforts.

Schools also helped with relief efforts, like St. John XXIII College Preparatory in Katy, which hosted a gift card drive to benefit Laura recovery.

In coordination with the Montgomery County Food Bank, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in The Woodlands also coordinated a delivery of 13 pallets of water to be sent to Louisiana.

St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in Spring, which was devastated by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, also coordinated an ecumenical supply drive to benefit storm relief.