Parishes, People Carry On While
Faith practices mix with fun to keep Catholics healthy spiritually and mentally during the stay-at-home quarantine.
By Margarita Mendoza, El Observador Editor
April 9, 2020
DIOCESE—The need for gathering in the communion of faith has brought out the creativity of men and women consecrated to God and to the service of their Church. 
Lay Catholics are also finding ways to show and share their faith and hope from home.
Many priests unfamiliar with social media and technology have learned to take advantage of them to be in contact with the faithful. 
Needs of the faithful have been met by online Masses,  the rosary and Way of the Cross, prayers, and even Pope  Francis’ March 27 blessing and message from the Vatican.
There has even been space for hilarious comments from priests to uplift spirits despite the separation caused by the pandemic.
Msgr. Arquímedes Vallejo, pastor of Sacred Heart in Aurora and diocesan Vicar for Hispanic Ministry, said he keeps the same schedule for Sunday Mass at 11:30 a.m. online.
“Every time I am in the virtual Mass I imagine the church full,” he said. “I know that I am not alone, there are many people sharing that special moment when heaven touches the earth, angels and archangels are there. I do not feel that I am celebrating alone.”
He is just one of many priests who have found ways to stream Masses in the Rockford Diocese.
Despite being a challenge for many priests, they now “use all technological resources to inform people and give them spiritual help, The apps are very good because they have many options,” said Father Oscar Cortés, pastor of St. Rita of Cascia in Aurora. 
“We are pleased to know that it has been useful to the people,” said Father Timothy Mulcahey, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Aurora.
When the weather allowed it, “We went to the outskirts of Elgin walking and driving with the monstrance,” blessing people through the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, said Father Jesús Domínguez, pastor of St. Joseph, Elgin. 
“This has taken us by surprise,” said Father Jorge Loaiza, parochial vicar at St Mary, Elgin and St. Patrick, St. Charles. 
Passionist Sisters Esperanza Reyes, Andrea Echavarría and Clotilde Orduña from St. Monica Parish in Carpentersville, pray the rosary or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy daily at 3 p.m. 
“In 77 years, it is the first time that I will not physically share Easter with my people,” said Sister Esperanza. For her this time has been one of “prayer and sacrifice.”
In the face of the physical absence of the parishioners, “I feel that the church is full because we feel the Divine presence of our Lord, and we are all spiritually united in prayer,” said Father Josué Rodrigo Lara, parochial administrator of St. Monica.
 “Preparing for a Sunday celebration on Facebook Live is now more constant. I was already a little used to broadcasting Masses or parish events before this pandemic,” said Father Domínguez. 
But he adds, “now the need is greater and I try to carry a message or a thought of encouragement in my posts in the face of the bombardment of negative news.”
Priests and parishioners hope “that soon we can fill our church again and celebrate the holy Eucharist as one family and under one roof,” said Father Domínguez.
On Palm Sunday, Father Ervin Caliente, pastor of St. Rita Parish in Rockford, brought blessings to his parishioners using social distancing. 
After his streamed 8:15 a.m. Mass, a few dozen cars of parishioners gathered in the parking lot where he came with the Eucharist in a ciborium to bless them in their cars. 
He then boarded a bus covered with Our Lady of Fatima images (see below) to travel to the homes of parishioners who had signed up for a visit. 
They came out on their porches, many with a Crucifix and lighted candle, to receive his blessing from the bus. 
Some car windshields and some parishioners’ home windows sported construction paper palm leaves and signs proclaiming “Hosanna!”
At Holy Cross Parish in Batavia the Enriching Lives Ministry (ELM) is starting new programs to help while people stay at home. 
One new effort is to increase card and note sending to residents at The Holmstad, a retirement home in Batavia. The parish ministry will also be working to set up similar programs at other nursing and senior residence homes. 
A prayer hotline is a new program to solicit parishioners who will provide their phone numbers and names to The Holmstad community engagement coordinator who will then help staff create a Prayer Hotline so lonely residents can reach out to parish members to talk and pray with them.
They are hoping to arrange video calls, too. 
“Letters of Love” is a second program for The Holmstad. Parishioners will be able to send emails with words of encouragement, pictures from children, and so forth. This will involve whole families, as children will be able to draw pictures and write letters that adults can scan and include in email.
Sending cards and notes to nursing home residents and homebound parishioners is an additional outreach project at Holy Cross. 
A variation on that familiar idea is Quick Card Sending. This will need volunteers who can send words of encouragement on short notice for new residents who are in the facility for rehab on a temporary basis. 
To learn more, Holy Cross parishioners may call 630-879-4750 ext. 321 
St. Katharine Drexel in Sugar Grove and St. Bridget in Loves Park are adding some fun to their streaming Masses and prayer services.
At St. Bridget Parish, the second episode of Ask the Priests went online last weekend. In early episodes, Msgr. Steven Knox, pastor, and Father John McNamara, share an unusual breakfast, and Father Sean Grismer, parochial vicar, gives up his beard for Lent.
And Father Robert “Bob” Jones, pastor of St. Katharine Drexel, adopts the personna of the famed children’s TV star, Mr. Rogers, complete with a change of coat and shoes. Then he reads a picture book to help his youngest parishioners understand the “history” of the Easter Bunny. 
“Father Bob’s Neighborhood” is on the parish Facebook page.
Is your parish doing something special to keep in touch or to reach out online or in safe socially-distant ways? Tell us about it at
— Amanda Hudson and Sharon Boehlefeld contributed to this story. 
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