Calgary’s bishop advising faithful to make sacrifices for the common good this Christmas

Nativity scene in front of Hillhurst United Church in Calgary. Carolyn Kury de Castillo/Global News

Calgary’s Catholic bishop is calling on people in southern Alberta to make some sacrifices this Christmas.

Bishop William McGrattan, who represents around a half million Catholics in southern Alberta, said on Sunday that he won’t be going back home to Ontario to be with family and friends and he hopes others can make sacrifices during  his holiday season as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers.

“It will be very difficult for me personally,” McGrattan said. “It’s prudent. It’s safe. We know that distancing and wearing a mask is a great act of charity that does really promote a good which is held in common.

“This is what we need to see in this time of a pandemic — that there was a greater good to which charity is calling us to sacrifice.”

McGrattan feels grateful that the Alberta government is still allowing for places of worship to be open. In November, B.C. banned in-person religious services.

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Read more: Coronavirus: All in-person services in B.C. places of worship suspended

However, McGrattan said he hopes those churches and individuals who are challenging Alberta’s COVID restrictions in court this week can see beyond their own personal needs.

“In times such as this, the good of all needs to be taken into consideration, and that’s what I hope people can see even in these debated and heated discussions,” he said.

Read more: New COVID-19 restrictions affect Alberta families mourning deaths of loved ones

Calgary’s Catholic churches will be holding more masses on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day because of the 15 per cent capacity rules.
McGrattan is confident those choosing to celebrate in person will be safe.

“I really have been encouraged by the level of safety and the number of volunteers who dedicate each of their Sundays to be there to clean the church after every celebration. Yes, there are discomforting things about our gatherings, with the minimal singing and not being able to greet people afterwards,” McGrattan said.

Most parishes are requiring online registration and offering online streaming as an alternative to in person.

Read more: COVID-19: Choir of Calgary church thrives despite illness and online rehearsals

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McGrattan added he believes it is possible to find greater meaning in times of sacrifice.

“That’s what I am hoping will come about this Christmas,” McGrattan said. “We are still family. Even though the numbers might be smaller, I think we all should realize that we are family and that we are connected and united despite these restrictions and these guidelines.”

It’s going to be a Christmas like never before at Hillhurst United Church in northwest Calgary. A pre-recorded service will take the place of the usual Christmas Eve ceremony and celebration.

“Doing a service when you were used to having people in the room where you have engagement back-and-forth, laughter, tears, singing, all of that — when we don’t have that it’s so hard,” said Rev. John Pentland, minister at Hillhurst United Church.

Volunteers have taken candles and placed them on the pews where each person would have normally sat.

Click to play video: 'Choir of Calgary church at centre of COVID-19 outbreak thrives despite illness and online rehearsals' Choir of Calgary church at centre of COVID-19 outbreak thrives despite illness and online rehearsals
Choir of Calgary church at centre of COVID-19 outbreak thrives despite illness and online rehearsals – Dec 7, 2020

During the recording, the candles were lit so that the congregation could see them while “Silent Night” played.

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“It looks simply stunning and I feel like the simple candle being lit for a congregant will fill a little piece of the void that everyone is feeling right now,” said Anne Yates-Laberge, director of operations at Hillhurst United Church.

On Sunday night 1500 luminary bags will be lit surrounding the entire church block from 5 to  7 p.m., in memory of all those lost in the past year.

People have also been invited to contribute to the nativity scene outside the church displaying Canada’s chief public health officer as an angel.

“It’s been stressful and challenging, and yet we powered through to the best of our ability,” Pentland said.

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