How COVID affects religious organizations at UM

Photo credit: Instagram @umhillel

As the University of Miami continues to respond to the pandemic, Rev. Phillip Tran the university’s full-time chaplain at St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center says UM’s religious organizations are also concerned about the spiritual health of the student body.

He, along with the rest of the religious organizations at UM, say they are trying to adapt in order to make sure their members can still be a part of their religious communities.

While there have been many setbacks for this upcoming semester, Tran says he believes that UCatholic has been successful. They have been able to hold Mass in a socially-distanced manner with less people and spaced seating at St. Augustine every Sunday.

Tran said most of the church’s meetings have been moved online, including their “Thrive” night, where members can talk about anything from religion and student life, to current news topics.

Christina Nader, a sophomore history major involved in the ministry, said she is very happy to be able to participate in “Thrive” and other online events.

“It’s just a really beautiful time of community where we get to gather together, and it’s nice because we get to see faces and not just masks,” Nader said.

Tran said that through interactive online outlets such as Zoom, the ministry has been able to connect with students in remote schooling as well as in-person.

“We have a girl from Honduras who can now do faith groups with us and be connected with everyone,” Tran said.

Something new this year is the introduction of small faith groups. In small faith groups, six or seven people study the Bible, eat dinner together and help each other through the difficulty of going to school during a pandemic.

“The students that participate in these small groups are able to create really deep, intimate relationships,” Tran said.

UM’s Catholic ministry is not alone in providing opportunities for students of faith to observe in a safe way.

Abdul Hamid Samra, head of the Muslim Students of the University of Miami, said the organization has also been able to still hold services during this tumultuous time. They are conducting services outside on Foote Green which has helped bring in about 10 to 12 students each Friday.

All other meetings, including religious teachings and chapter meetings, have become fully virtual. Samra deemed virtual meetings important for any student that is learning remotely for this semester. While MSUM was not able to table anywhere on campus in order to inform any new students, they were able to send out fliers in freshman orientation packets and gathered with all the chaplains in a social justice service.

“While only two or three students attended, all the chaplains were able to be there on the green on a united front,” Samra said.

Not only has MSUM been conducting services during this semester, but they have also been inviting virtual speakers who have come in to talk to the group about some taboo topics revolving around Muslim faith.

Nausheen Merchant, a senior and the secretary of MSUM, said he is very excited about these new community-based programs as they branch outside of strictly Muslim faith-oriented events.

“It’s important to build that community that they feel that they have someone because it has been a really lonely time, and it’s important to keep checking up on our loved ones.” Merchant said, adding that Islam’s focus is very “community-driven.”

Rabbi Lyle Rothman of UM’s Hillel, says his organization has transitioned well this semester, despite an initial “Zoom-bomb,” where anti-semitic users hacked into the service to interrupt and spew hateful, anti-semitic rhetoric. Rothman said he was horrified and wanted to make changes immediately for the Hillel members. Now, all participants must register for a link and be admitted from a Zoom waiting room.

These meetings are not just religion-based, but they are also a place for students to find a community during Covid-19.

“Most of our students are not very religious but want to be a part of the Jewish community,” Rothman said. Hillel has hosted celebrities, such as Selling Sunset star Maya Vander who talked to students about her life. While this does not have to do with any service, Lyle believes that it helps bring the community together.

Sophomore David Paul attended the Hillel outdoor service on Foote Green and Rosh Hashanah services in the Pergola, a shaded patio outside of the Hillel building where chairs were spread out. He went to previous Shabbat services and dinners and said he was pleased with the service.

“I was able to socially interact with friends that I haven’t seen since March and have a great take-home meal provided by Pura Vida for Shabbat,” Paul said.

Hillel also started a “ShabbaTote” initiative. Students are able to request a tote bag filled with grape juice boxes, a small challah, candles and a grocery store gift card. With the gift card, students can cook a Shabbat dinner and send a picture to Hillel to get reimbursed for the food.

Julian Pollack, a sophomore and avid member of Hillel who purchased a “ShabbaTote,” was very happy with the initiative.

“It was basically like having Shabbat dinner at Hillel. It is a great way to celebrate while being safe,” Pollack said.

Featured Image courtesy of Hillel.