” There will be room for everyone! “, promised Father Pierre Chatry. In the parishes of Saint-Benoît-des-landes and Saint-Luc-des-rivières (Vendée), the health restrictions due to the Covid epidemic have not discouraged the faithful from sharing, as a family, the celebrations of the Nativity.
While other parishes have chosen to authorize access to churches through online reservation systems, this community of Christians of eleven bell towers, spread over an area of 25 kilometers, has preferred to expand its offer of Masses. , thanks to the reinforcement of three auxiliary priests “ very active ” and a young seminarian.
A total of seven Masses were celebrated on December 24 – from 6 p.m. for families until midnight – and four on Christmas Day. Although a low attendance at late masses was expected, there was never any question of canceling the traditional midnight mass, ” to which some of the faithful remain attached ”, observes Father Chatry.
Elderly people had not seen a priest for several months
The Christians of each community – sacristans, musicians and singers, liturgy teams – bent over backwards for the material preparation of the churches, subject to the sanitary protocol, imposing the condemnation of every other bench. “Obviously, we were going a little into the unknown, explains Pierre Chatry, the big question was, like everywhere, will there be people? A lot of people, among the older ones, have not returned to church for fear of the virus ”.
Pierre Chatry began his Christmas marathon on December 23, by going to retirement homes, sometimes celebrating masses in front of only ten or so faithful. In some establishments, such as the Ruleau nursing home in Aizenay, where the assembly was much larger, residents had not seen a priest for several months.
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There was a form of “ relief for them to be able to share this celebration ”, observes Chantal Grellier, one of the chaplaincy volunteers, happy ” to communicate the joy of the birth of Christ with others ”.
“It’s a bit sporty. But it’s not superhuman either! “
On the occasion of these Christmas celebrations like no other, every moment was counted. With a hurry, he quickly went to the presbytery, to drink a glass of sparkling apple juice, to regain his strength and recover his car, he who, before and since his appointment in these two parishes, circulated by scooter.
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Reached by the age limit, he will soon pass the baton to Father Côme de Brisoult, 40 years his junior. For this lap of honor, he spares no effort: “It’s a bit sporty. But it’s not superhuman either! If there is a little physical fatigue at the end, as we say here “it is good fatigue, fatigue that gives pleasure!“ “
Over a thousand people attended the various Christmas masses. This confidence, despite the fear of the virus, was notably maintained during the two periods of confinement, during which this energetic priest maintained the link with his parishioners through daily digital newspapers.
There he disseminated the liturgy, but also practical information, generously supplemented with anecdotes, optimistic comments on current events and quotes. Aware that isolation could lead to depression, he concluded his posts by encouraging everyone to ” maintain confidence ”.