August 11, 2020

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COVID and the City
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9 a.m.

Virtual worship a daily habit

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church

Thirty seconds before showtime, Rev. Monsignor Maurice Comeault leaves the sanctuary’s quaint sound booth and makes his way to the altar; double-checking the time on his iPhone as he passes the empty pews.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church on Roblin Boulevard has a capacity of 600, but right now there is room only for the pastor and his volunteer technical director during morning mass. Coronavirus has temporarily disbanded Comeault’s congregation — and he’s OK with that.

"It’s different, but in it’s own way it’s better," he says. "The presence of love and life is not tied to a building."

“The presence of love and life is not tied to a building.”

Comeault, 78, is enjoying connecting with parishioners in their homes virtually. He has been streaming a 45-minute mass on the church’s YouTube channel every day at 9 a.m. sharp since the pandemic landed in Manitoba. On Wednesday, 58 viewers tuned in to watch live.

Wearing a simple white robe and a headset microphone, Comeault delivers a free-flowing sermon on community, faith and connection into the quiet, light-filled sanctuary.

While he speaks his eyes scan the room, giving viewers the impression of a full house. The presentation style is partly habit and partly intentional.

"I have to see them at home from my heart," he says.

Rev. Maurice Comeault performs his daily mass to online parishioners from an empty sanctuary every day. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Rev. Maurice Comeault performs his daily mass to online parishioners from an empty sanctuary every day. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Church member Dave Patterson manages the technical side of the mass. The work has given him a reason to get out of the house and a deeper relationship with Comeault as the two men spend a lot of time chatting during sound check and over coffee.

The daily visits have also been a source of personal comfort for Patterson, who hails from Nova Scotia not far from where a gunman killed 22 people in April.

"It's been good for me to come here every day," he says.

Rev. Maurice Comeault of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, looks at his settings prior to his daily online mass. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Rev. Maurice Comeault of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, looks at his settings prior to his daily online mass. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

While Comeault misses seeing all of his parishioners, he is choosing to focus on the positives.

He has been a pastor in the Archdiocese of Winnipeg for 52 years, but started his career as a Trappist monk in St. Norbert. In a way, the pandemic has brought him back to the routine of monastic life, when his days were filled with reading and studying scripture.

"What I can do now is to improve my personal prayer life, improve some topics that I need to study a little bit more and sort of sharpen my skates before the game," says Comeault, who is also a lifelong hockey fan and player.

"I can do that without rush, without distraction."

— Eva Wasney

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