by Moira Cullings
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann celebrated Mass on Facebook Live for the first time in March, he had no idea the virtual community that awaited him.
The archbishop had never celebrated Mass for a strictly online audience before, but the pandemic has called for all sorts of unusual practices.
“I kind of felt like the early Christians that were forced out of Jerusalem by a persecution, [and as a result] that’s how the Gospel began to get spread,” said Archbishop Naumann.
“In a sense,” he added, “not really being very savvy with technology, I’d never really considered using it much as a tool to pray with people.
“This really opened my eyes to its potential in that area. I could reach a lot of people that normally I wouldn’t connect with very regularly.”
For more than three months, Archbishop Naumann offered Mass nearly every day at 8:30 a.m. from his own chapel and on Sunday mornings from the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas.
It was a way for him to reach people in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas — and beyond — who were at home and unable to attend Mass due to COVID-19.
The archbishop typically drew in more than 2,000 people for each Mass — and sometimes up to more than 7,000.
From the start, the community felt like an audience of virtual “parishioners” who were there to pray with the archbishop and connect with one another through comments.
“There were a lot of comments of encouragement, but also some comments that had questions or suggestions on how [the archdiocese] could do things better,” said Archbishop Naumann. “I did find it helpful to read what people were experiencing.”
Many of the regular viewers hailed from rural parts of the archdiocese and even from the archbishop’s hometown of St. Louis.
The archbishop was always delighted by the positive feedback he received, like comments that said: “I feel like I know the archbishop now. I know him better.”
“That was very gratifying,” he said.
Although the archbishop is grateful for the online community, he is excited to get back to visiting parishes in person as the celebration of public Masses are starting up again.
Because of his busy schedule, he will no longer be able to offer live-stream Masses for the time being. His last Facebook Live Mass from his chapel took place July 3, and his last Mass from the cathedral was celebrated July 4.
But the archbishop wants to keep in touch with the unique community that’s formed around them.
He plans to publish a morning reflection video on the daily readings on Facebook each day.
“What’s very apparent is [this community’s] love for Jesus and their longing for him and their willingness to connect in the ways that they have,” said Archbishop Naumann.
The archbishop wants to keep connecting in particular with people who aren’t “regular customers in our church,” he said.
“I remember one lady saying she wasn’t Catholic, but her son was,” said Archbishop Naumann. “She began to watch the daily Masses, and she really was finding a lot of spiritual strength and comfort from them.”
The Facebook Live Masses have not only brought peace to those staying at home, but they’ve also been a blessing for the archbishop, who believes God has brought good from this situation.
“It’s opened up for me this ability to [recognize] we don’t need a pandemic to be livestreaming messages to people,” he said.
“I’ll always be grateful that it’s kind of forced me to use these tools that were there before,” he continued, “[and] to employ them as a way of fulfilling my mission of providing pastoral care for our people.”
Archbishop Naumann will look back at this unprecedented time with appreciation, he said.
“I’ll be forever grateful to be able to have had — and hopefully continue to have — a more personal connection with people than I’ve had before so they know their bishop better,” he said.