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Waterloo pastor reflects on parish’s reaction to COVID-19

WATERLOO — On March 17, The Witness interviewed Father Tony Kruse, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Waterloo, about how he and the people of his parish are coping with the coronavirus pandemic. Among other things, the parish is livestreaming Masses in English on its website and working with priests at other parishes in the city to livestream Masses in Burmese and Spanish. Below is an edited transcript of the interview. A small part of this interview was used as part of an earlier article on general reactions around the archdiocese to the pandemic. This extended version of the interview has been edited for the sake of clarity and time constraints:


Fr. Kruse: We have to do something to let people know we’re still here. If you can still see somebody that you know or are familiar with on a computer screen, I think that will help out in regards to the transition during this time. … Our viewership on our livestream is really going up big time.


The Witness: Can you give me an idea of how much the viewership of your livestreamed Masses has increased?


Fr. Kruse: People can watch it on our website or through Facebook. From the Saturday evening Mass on March 7 at 4:30 p.m., we had 89 viewers on our website and 657 views through Facebook. From just a couple of days ago, the 4:30 p.m. Mass, we had 267 views through our website and Facebook we had 1,900 views. … With the archbishop (also) livestreaming, I think that’s a great idea. Especially now, we get our chief shepherd celebrating Mass and putting himself out there. We’re all witnessing this at this same time. …


The Witness: How has your parish’s ministry that provides visits to the homebound, hospitals and nursing homes been affected?


Fr. Kruse: Sister Madonna Friedman, OSF, who is a staff member here, started the program years ago. And (Pastoral Minister) Deb Lundberg has really taken it and ran with it. … We have a lot of volunteers, and we call them Spiritual Companions that go to all the homebound. They call them, visit them and bring Communion to them every week. We have a group that goes to hospitals and care centers … it’s tremendous. … We’re being asked by care centers and hospitals to stay away during this time, and we’re respecting that. To the homebound, we have a different system in place. (Volunteers) make a call if they (the homebound) are not feeling (like accepting visitors).

*Since the interview, all in-person visits have stopped, but phone calls continue.


The Witness: How are you handling the sacrament of anointing of the sick?


Fr. Kruse: If hospice calls, if family members call that a loved one is near death, I don’t know how I could say no at that time. It’s part of who we are as priests. We have to go, but we’re not taking the initiative of showing up at a hospital, showing up at a care center. We’re respecting the decrees and wishes of these organizations that have to keep all their population safe. … We’re available for appointment for the sacrament of confession. We’re available for emergency needs if we get called, but we’re trying to avoid the large groups gathering together. …


The Witness: How do you think the pandemic is affecting the spiritual lives of the people in your area and how is it affecting your spiritual life as a priest?


Fr. Kruse: For me, yesterday (Monday, March 16), when everything was happening fast and furious, luckily, I live close to the church, so once the news came from the archbishop (that public Masses and other events) were canceled, I came right to the office and I started working. … Monday is my day out of the office, like a lot of priests. When I announced it to staff, I didn’t really have time to process. This is what we need to do. But last night, when I went to bed, I almost started crying. … Here, when we need the strength of faith all the more, we can’t have people come to worship at Mass. That was hard. Some staff members got a little teary-eyed too when I broke the news. So, for me, this is hard, especially now that we’re getting close to Easter. … We’ll adjust, but in the holiest time of the year, we’re not able to be together. … We definitely have to carry a cross. Lent is not a normal time of the year anyway. … It’s a heavier Lent. … We’re all … uniting in one way to offer a sacrifice on behalf of the church and each other and especially those who are sick and suffering. It can have a spiritual component. Maybe there will be renewing, so that when we’re able to get back together, it will definitely be like an Easter. … A lot of the world does not have regular Mass. … We are united in a very specific way to other parts of the world that don’t have Mass on a regular basis … don’t have access to the sacraments like we do. … Once we’re able to get back together celebrating Mass, I just feel there’s going to be a … new life there, a new appreciation because people were forced to not have it.


The Witness: Is there anything else you’d like to share?


Fr. Kruse: I’m a fan of history. Throughout history, there have been ups and downs. There have been plagues and times of health. The church has made it through. People have made it through, even through the most difficult times. The faith remains. The church remains. We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but no matter what, in the end, we’ll be OK. I firmly believe that. That’s why we’re supposed to be a people of faith, to have hope. … The Waterloo parishes, throughout Lent, we (have) a theme, which is so appropriate … that came out of the Lenten readings, ‘Arise and do not be afraid.’ And we’ve been stressing that every week. …


Cover photo: Father Tony Kruse is shown celebrating Mass during a livestream at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Waterloo. (Screen shot from Blessed Sacrament website.)