‘At the end of 2020, our team reflected that after all that has happened, it has still been a blessing because we have very much been working together,’ reflects Fr Hien Vu, parish priest of joint parishes of St Brendan’s in Flemington and Holy Rosary of Kensington.

Fr Hien notes that the year brought communities ‘into a different level of relationship’ despite challenges, including the 'hard' lockdown of public housing towers in Flemington and North Melbourne in July. Fr Hien was particularly active in his support for those affected, coordinating support from the wider parish, organising care packages and translating for Vietnamese families in the towers.

But facing challenges brought on by Covid-19 together led to St Brendan’s Church and Holy Rosary feeling more united as a result.

‘There are no boundaries when parishioners are all on the big screen together,’ Fr Hien says. Together, the joint parishes coped with parishioner isolation by organising activities online, including live-streamed Masses and meetings over Zoom.

With volunteers and staff members from both parishes, Fr Hien initiated unique ways to reach out to the parish communities throughout 2020. These included various initiatives such as leaving gifts of candles and holy water for parishioners to pick-up outside the parish offices and take home for their prayer time and Mass online with family.

The dual parishes also convened for an online parish retreat. ‘We even played games online together, but we still missed the physical element.’

But despite challenges, ‘this community has become stronger this year,’ Fr Hien reflects. ‘I remind myself every day that each challenge is an opportunity,’ Fr Hien says.

That attitude, coupled with an abundance of time, allowed for the completion of jobs that had previously been sidelined. For example, an old piety stall built into the front facade of St Brendan’s church, unused for 27 years, was cleaned out during the year.

‘During the lockdown, we slowly cleaned up the stall and turned it into a beautiful window for the nativity scene display,’ Fr Hien says.

Nativity display in the old piety stall

And once the lockdown eased during Advent, the parish communities created a parish advent calendar. ‘We asked people to submit a piece of art so we can print them out,’ he explains. The calendar was made up of wooden ‘tablets’ that were hung outdoors.

Each tablet was inscribed with messages from different parishioners and their families including words of scripture, and messages of hope in the lead up to Christmas.

Hanging tablets as part of the parish Advent calendar

Fr Hien Vu gives full credit to the wider parish communities for their hands-on work to create a healthy and united parish family in 2020.

‘It was an opportunity for everyone to care for one another, and we all took turns,’ he says. ‘Being together is beautiful and so important in being able to share the word of God.’