Amid the chaos and uncertainty of the time ‘Easter is still Easter,’ Bishop Foys says

Laura Keener, Editor.

This year’s sacred Triduum services necessitated several liturgical adjustments as each was celebrated this year without the benefit of the congregation being physically present — a restriction to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. As recommended by the Holy See, the celebrations were simulcast via live stream on the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption’s website but were not recorded for future viewing. All Masses took place at the cathedral.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent anxieties, restrictions and reactions were a common theme throughout the celebrations as Christ’s passion, death and resurrection seemed to take on an even more personal reality.

“Oftentimes in life we have things happen that at the moment we don’t quite understand; we don’t quite comprehend its full meaning. Later on, having been through the event, we understand,” Bishop Roger Foys said as he began his homily on Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

This was true of the apostles as Jesus washed their feet at the Last Supper — a task usually reserved for a servant, not the master. Peter recoiled, saying that he wasn’t worthy.

“The fact of the matter is that Jesus wasn’t washing Peter’s feet because he was worthy or unworthy — it was Jesus’ gift of love,” said Bishop Foys. “If Jesus were concerned at that time about worthiness of unworthiness would he have washed the feet of Judas? But yet he did. Jesus wanted the apostles to accept that gesture as a gift.”

In the Gospel reading of the Last Supper, Jesus instructs his disciples that, “What I have done for you, you must do for others.”

“Those words ring true to our very day,” Bishop Foys said. “Jesus gives us his love, unworthy though we are, he gives his love freely and unconditionally as a precious gift and says to us, ‘As I have done so must you to each other.’”

Bishop Foys acknowledged that what is happening in our lives now with the pandemic, we don’t understand. “We are called to use this time and reflect on this time as a means for us to understand what is really important in our lives, who is really important in our lives. In the end, as unbelievable as it may sound now, some good in the end will be achieved. While we don’t understand, perhaps we are confused, perhaps we are discouraged, certainly we are afraid, we trust in God … In the meantime we open our hearts to God’s love, a gift that is freely given. All that matters is that he loves us with a love that never fails. All he asks is that we follow his example to love one another as he has loved us.”

Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ passion and death, is a very somber day in the life of the Church. It is the only day where Mass is not to be celebrated. At the Cathedral, Good Friday services began in silence. When the procession reached the altar, Bishop Foys, Father Ryan Maher, Father Daniel Schomaker, Father Michael Grady, Deacon Jordan Hainsey and Father Joseph Shelton prostrated themselves before the altar — signifying the grief and sorrow of the Church.

In his homily Bishop Foys said, “This Good Friday, in the year 2020, is especially somber for us. We find ourselves in the midst of tremendous anxiety, stress and fear … But this we know, that what we observe today, although it might seem outwardly and at first glance, a loss — the death of Jesus — actually is the gain of eternal life.

“Even in our current situation, something good, something positive will come. Perhaps a change of heart, perhaps a resurgence of faith, perhaps a resurgence of trust, perhaps coming to a conclusion of what really and truly matters in life.

“On this somber day, as we reflect on the meaning of Jesus’ suffering and death in our own lives personally, we do have hope. We have a light shining in the darkness. Hope does not disappoint; faith does not abandon us if we trust in the Lord.”

The Easter Vigil, when the Church celebrates the first moments of Jesus’ resurrection, the light coming into the darkness, is typically a time when the Church welcomes its new members — the Elect — into full communion. Due to the restrictions on large gatherings, there were no baptisms or confirmations celebrated during the Easter Vigil. The blessing of the fire was also eliminated — but the life of the Church continued.

Bishop Foys prepared the 2020 Paschal Candle and the announcement of the Lord’s resurrection was proclaimed. The joyful strain of Alleluia — which was extinguished on Ash Wednesday — was once again sung and echoed through the cathedral.

“When someone we love dies we are overcome with grief,” Bishop Foys said as he began his homily. “Grief can lead to confusion and disorientation.”

This, he said, might explain Mary’s confusion when she found Jesus’ tomb empty. “The angel says to them, ‘Do not be afraid,’” Bishop Foys said.

Then the angel asks Mary to make an act faith by remembering that Jesus had told her that he would conquer death and instructing her to go and share the good news, share her faith.

“Jesus told you he will conquer death and be raised from the dead. Now go and share your faith, share your belief,” said Bishop Foys.

“Tonight we celebrate that truth, that Jesus Christ is Lord — the son of God and the son of Mary. He was born, he lived, he suffered, he died and if that had been the end there would have been no more to it, but he was raised from the dead by the Father and lives never to die again. He promises us that if we are faithful to him, to his word and to his Church that we will share in a like resurrection.

“In the face of what seems hopeless, we have hope. Because of our faith that generates that hope we can still, in the midst of this confusion, in the midst of what is a tragedy, in the midst of this pandemic, we can find joy, because the Lord will be victorious and Lord walks with us.”

On Easter Sunday, Bishop Foys encouraged the faithful who, because of the pandemic, would not be celebrating as a community at Mass and would not be receiving the Eucharist, not to lose hope.

“We do the best we can. We celebrate Easter in our hearts and we have Spiritual Communion,” Bishop Foys said. “Easter is still Easter. The Resurrection is still the Resurrection. Our faith is still our faith. We cannot let our sense of loss blind us to the reality that Jesus Christ suffered, died and was raised from the dead, conquering death, victorious over the grave once and for all. We cannot ignore the fact that Jesus Christ took with him our sins when he died on the cross.

“This is a time more than ever to come face to face with our Lord, Jesus and let him embrace us as we embrace him and to truly believe that he will not abandon us. There is light in the darkness and there is life after death. The truths of our faith remain the same. With that faith and with that hope and with that trust in the Lord, we can get through this present time. On this Easter Sunday 2020, all of us can make an act of faith and renew our faith in the Lord and trust in his word.”

St Elizabeth corona

Parishioners support local healthcare workers

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

While most of the public stays home, healthcare workers labor on — and St. Thomas Parish, Ft. Thomas, wanted to show its concern for essential employees.

In a new program called St. Elizabeth Outreach, Father Ross Kelsch, parochial vicar, and his parishioners have created a system to make sure every employee at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Ft. Thomas, receives tokens of appreciation.

In a video posted to Facebook, April 2, Father Kelsch requested that the parish reach out to their local neighbors at the hospital. Through online donations to St. Thomas, they’re paying for meals and gift cards to the employees at St. Elizabeth.

For example, parishioners are buying dinner for the night shift in the Emergency Room, gift cards to the janitorial staff, and sending cards to different departments.

“The idea behind it is helping those who are helping others,” said Father Kelsch. “We felt like St. Thomas should do something because St. Elizabeth is in our parish.”

St. Elizabeth, Ft. Thomas is the hub for the coronavirus in Northern Kentucky, so the hospital has converted itself to take care of those who are most in need of ventilators. Normally, Father Kelsch said he’d organize a movement to have people go to Kroger and buy gift cards or donate baked goods, but with social distancing rules in place, he’s having everyone give to an online platform which he then sends directly to the hospital.

Father Kelsch went directly to Mary Lynn Brunemann, assistant vice president, Foundation at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, who put him in touch with the Ft. Thomas branch administrator, John Mitchell.

“We’ve had a phenomenal response to that,” he said. “Last Saturday night we provided gift cards for the entire night shift, that was 110 gift cards for everyone from the doctors to the janitorial staff to the food service people.”

When he communicates with the hospital, Father Kelsch is careful to ensure that everyone gets something, so it’s not just particular departments. “Our goal is to support those on the front lines,” he said.

Father Kelsch said the parish currently has collected over $7,000 in donations, simply by reaching out via Facebook and e-mail.

St. Thomas has also reached out to the local fire and police departments, purchasing dinner for them or sending cards to show their support. It’s all in an effort to “be a good neighbor.”

“We all play special roles and some roles are more critical right now,” said Father Kelsch. “The $15 gift card isn’t going to make that much difference in your life, but to know there are people out there supporting you and praying for you and caring for you was the goal.”

Bishop Foys ordains Joseph Rielage to the transitional diaconate

Laura Keener, Editor.

Joseph Rielage has thought about a vocation to the priesthood for most of his life. The first person to comment to him that he might have a vocation was one of his customers at a Sherwin Williams paint store. A customer, “Jim,” unexpectedly said, “Joe, someday you’re going to be a priest.”

“I told him he must have smelled to many paint fumes,” Mr. Rielage said.

But the truth is, Mr. Rielage had thought about a priestly vocation when he was in high school at Elder High School, Cincinnati. As life went on, the idea would present itself often, whenever he came to a crossroad in his life, but the time was never right.

Mr. Rielage is one of two children of Tom and Carol Rielage. While he was in college, Mrs. Rielage became very ill and Mr. Rielage felt an obligation to care for his mother. She didn’t recover. Before she died, Mr. Rielage assured his mother that he would take care of his father.

“My dad was lost because he was so dedicated to my mom. I basically had to look out for him,” said Mr. Rielage. “I had promised mom, not to worry about dad that I would take care of him.”

And so he did — happily and without any regret.

When his father passed away in 2013 the call to the priesthood overtook his imagination.

“I woke up on Pentecost Sunday and I said, ‘Lord, my life is okay right now but if there is something you want me to do let me know.’ The thought of seminary entered my mind again and I had this fire inside of me that I can’t describe. I thought that must be the call,” Mr. Rielage said.

For over a year Mr. Rielage has had the date April 4, 2020, marked on his calendar as the day Bishop Roger Foys will ordain him to the transitional diaconate — a step in his formation to ordination to the priesthood next year.

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that have been placed on public celebration of the Mass and sacraments, the question of whether this was the right time came up. Mr. Rielage was asked if he wanted to postpone his ordination or have a private ceremony with only 10 people present — including celebrants. Without hesitation, Mr. Rielage chose to go ahead with the scheduled ordination as a private ceremony, Saturday, April 4, 10 a.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington. The ceremony was live-streamed online; a link to the livestream is on the diocesan website

“I think its important because in this time of uncertainty, this time of lockdown, it’s important to show that the life of the Church does go on,” said Mr. Rielage.

Mr. Rielage was able to invite four people to the private ceremony. They were: his sister Melissa Ruhnke (his only sibling), her husband, Chris, and their two sons — J.T. and Kevin. Mr. Rielage said that there are other family members who would have liked to come but “It’s important for me, and important for them, to take precautions to avoid any potential tragedy or infection They understand it’s one of those things we don’t have control over.”

Going back to the classroom for seminary studies after many years away from school has been a challenge, Mr. Rielage said.

“But, when I am back at the parish during the summer, I am peaceful, I am calm, I am in my element, and I know this is what I need to do, to be there for people and bring them the Lord,” he said.

Mr. Rielage said that all of the pastors that he has worked with during his formation have been wonderful mentors and supporters.

“They have all added some insights, encouragement and support which has helped me to move along,” he said.
These priests are: Father Gregory Bach, St. Henry Parish, Elsmere; Msgr. William Cleves, Holy Spirit Parish, Newport; Father Phillip DeVous, St. Joseph Parish, Crescent Springs and Father Mario Tizziani, St. Cecelia Parish, Independence.

The pastor of his current home parish, Father Kevin Kahmann, Mary, Queen of Heaven Parish, Erlanger, has been especially influential. “He’s part of the reason why I am here; how humble he is … he helped me become more serious about the call,” he said.

Mr. Rielage said that he admires St. Alphonsus Roderiquez. Older in life, St. Alphonsus sought to become a Jesuit priest and was twice rejected before being admitted. After ordination, he was assigned the humble position of porter and served in that position for many years. And while others might tire of servitude, it brought St. Alphonsus happiness.

“He greeted everybody with a smile and was content with whatever he was told to do. That’s what I want to be able to do,” Mr. Rielage said.

To the people of the Diocese of Covington Mr. Rielage said, “I appreciate the sacrifices and the support they have given to me. I want to do all I can, to be the best I can, in serving them and I look forward to that day. This is a step to one-day, God willing, becoming priest.”

Community comes together to bolster ESNKY’s efforts during pandemic

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

Creative thinking and community connections have allowed the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky’s (ESNKY) doors to open in a new location — but not the one planned for this fall.

The winter shelter closed on March 13 because it could not meet the Center for Disease Control’s six-foot social distancing requirement amid the COVID-19 pandemic which has closed many similar centers over the last few weeks.

Kim Webb, executive director, said she had hoped to re-open by Monday, March 16, but employees became symptomatic over the weekend and she didn’t want to expose anyone. However, when outside temperatures began dropping on the 18th of March, she knew she had to do something. She tried booking hotel rooms for a couple of days, but it wasn’t possible because they had laid off staff.

Mrs. Webb then read an article online about how similar organizations in Oregon were using public spaces like convention centers for the homeless. She put in a phone call to Judge Executive Kris Knochelmann with the idea of using the NKY Convention Center. He returned her call with a “yes,” she said.

After a furious day of work contacting local partners and Kenton County Emergency Management, Mrs. Webb acquired cots, medical assistance from Welcome House, and by 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 21, “We had 45 adult men tucked in and each had their own 10-feet by 10-feet area — all in all 40,000 square feet and restrooms.”

The space features beds, meals, games and a large projector screen with Netflix set up. Mrs. Webb and her team are attempting to make the place feel like home.

She has definite plans for two weeks. Half of the space is set up as an isolation side should they need it. By March 27, she had 66 men sheltered and the beds are all full.

“I wanted to see if we could assist in some way with the small population and (the shelter) keeps people from moving around,” she said. It worried her that people had no place to go, since movement is what spreads the virus. Now they are only allowing people to leave if they have a doctor’s appointment or if they’re working.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my community partners in Covington who said yes when I reached out,” said Mrs. Webb. “Everybody willingly jumped in and provided something and they’ve all been integral to the success.”
While each business is running their own work, they’re taking the time to make sure ESNKY stays running.

Volunteers from local churches and the community are allowed in on a monitored basis, and Mrs. Webb organizes daily 11 a.m. phone calls with community partners to see what’s needed. Generous donors from places like Trinity Episcopal Church provided the bills for dinner and breakfast, which are being supplied by local restaurants.

She also said she’s been working to meet codes by communicating with the fire department. Nurses from Welcome House are conducting temperature checks every four hours.

Mrs. Webb also contacted Father Michael Comer from Mother of God Parish, Covington, who put out a call to his congregation to see what they could do. Brave volunteers are delivering meals to the convention center from local businesses like Pee Wee’s Restaurant who are providing meals to ESNKY. The parish also hosts a vibrant prayer group who keep the sheltered in their prayers.

Mrs. Webb said the most useful way for the community to help right now is for individuals to donate directly to the shelter, especially since she’s trying to provide opportunities for staff to work and get paid during this time.

Generous donors have provided meals and supplies, among other things. Other partners include: Be Concerned (cleaning supplies), Breakfast Mission of Covington, Brighton Center, Catholic Charities, Covington Fire Department, Fairhaven Rescue Mission (night staffing and providing lunch), HealthPoint, Kenton County Emergency Management, NKY Health Department, Pee Wee’s Restaurant (dinner every day), Salvation Army- Kenton County, The Lords Gym (showers at Queen’s Gate, corn hole supplies) and Welcome House.

For Mrs. Webb, “The story is becoming about how the community partners said yes without hesitation. This is a very public way to show how we were able to come together quickly,” she said. “In 30 minutes, a crazy idea was off and going