WASHINGTON — With many so eager to put 2020 in the rearview mirror, one Catholic publication is saying: “Not so fast.”
The series, updated online every few days at the end of December, at angelusnews.com, included personal essays from regular contributors and guest writers reflecting on how 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, was a providential year.
Pablo Kay, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, said the idea for the series was something he was thinking about for several weeks as the end of the year approached.
In an email to Catholic News Service, he said that he kept thinking about the personal sufferings of this year, noting that in his own experience he lost two family members and two priests close to his family due to COVID-19 and had friends and family members lose jobs and suffer from the isolation brought on by the coronavirus restrictions.
But he also said the year had been one of grace for him where he got to know himself better and grew closer to God. “There were many answered prayers and unexplainable surprises too,” he said. He also realized he wasn’t the only one with this experience because he heard and read about others saying something similar.
Kay thought of asking a variety of Catholics to write essays looking back on the past year but he also worried that this could seem insensitive and that the suggestion that 2020 may have been a good or providential year, amid all of its negative aspects, could “feel like a slap in the face to readers, especially those who’d suffered” much more than he had.
Then one day in December he got an email out of the blue from a priest he’d never met, Msgr. Jim Gehl, pastor of St. Euphrasia Church in Los Angeles. The priest sent along a reflection he’d originally written for his parishioners that some suggested he submit to the archdiocesan magazine.
“As I read it, I was amazed that what he wrote was so similar to the idea that had been bouncing around in my head. So I took it as a sign to go ahead with the idea. I started brainstorming ideas for possible contributors who might have seen ‘God’s hand’ behind this crazy year and be able to write about it,” Kay said.
The result, was the series, which he said: “From an editor’s perspective, I found the responses surprising. As a reader, I found them immensely consoling.”
The writers include a local filmmaker, a cardinal released from one year in prison, a longtime Los Angeles pastor healed from a terminal cancer and a Catholic writer who shared her experience of accompanying a dying parent diagnosed with a degenerative disease.
Retired Australian Cardinal George Pell, acquitted by Australia’s High Court on charges of sexual abuse in April 2020, after spending more than a year in prison, wrote of his ordeal. Previously mentioned, Msgr. Gehl, described how he survived a bout with Burkitt Lymphoma this year and Elise Italiano Ureneck, a mother of a newborn son, recounted her experience in the hospital during the pandemic.
Other writers in the series include a Los Angeles-based film producer TJ Berden, co-producer and screenwriter for the 2018 film “Paul, Apostle of Christ” and Catholic writer Patty Breen, who recounted her experience of taking care of her dying father, who suffers from a neurodegenerative disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.
The introduction says: “2020 was a year marked by sickness, death, unrest, isolation, and economic difficulty — a year that has challenged the faith of many. And so, one might ask: ‘What good could come out of a year like this one?'”
And that’s just what the series takes up.
One contributor, Robert Brennan, director of communications at The Salvation Army California South Division in Van Nuys, California, said in a reflection published Dec. 31 that he was grateful for chance in the pandemic to spend more time with his adult children and a grandson and also for experiencing a renewed calm and appreciation of faith.
He said there seemed to be a universal good feeling about saying goodbye to 2020 along with attitudes that were “remarkably optimistic about the better prospects of 2021.”
His personal view, looking to the new year, was a prayer for those who are suffering and for patience and courage. “And 2021, ” he added: “show us what you got.”