Scott Aurit, of St. Patrick Parish in Elkhorn, and his son, Andrew, 6, regularly pray with the rosary group. Andrew often has an active role. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

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Begun during pandemic, virtual rosary has helped participants weather life’s ups and downs

Also: Rosary group’s fundraiser for Ukraine invokes St. Michael

Two years ago the world was learning about a new pandemic.

There was uncertainty and worry as people began to isolate inside their homes, wash their hands frequently and clean everything they handled – all to thwart the spread of this new threat, COVID-19.

What to do amid the isolation and uncertainty?

For at least one group of friends the answer was obvious: “Let’s pray the rosary.”

Through the Zoom app they found a way to connect online, see each others’ faces and pray for each other’s needs and the needs of the world.

Two years later, their daily rosary continues.

As the pandemic dragged on and eventually weakened, new concerns arose for group members: a knee surgery, parents dying, other family members needing prayers – and global emergencies, such as the war in Ukraine.

But one thing has remained constant: the prayers and support of the group.

Rosary pray-ers sometimes come and go in the group, returning when they can. But all of them know – no matter where they are, at home or on the road – every evening at 8 p.m., they have a source of reassurance and hope as they turn on computers, phones and other devices to gather virtually with each other and pray.

“It’s nice to have a whole group of people praying for you, praying for your child, praying for your grandkids, just praying for you in general,” said Brian Abbott, one of the rosary group’s organizers and a member of St. Leo the Great Parish in Omaha. “It’s nice to know that other people support you, and vice versa, that I can help other people.”

“I feel that this is such a powerful prayer group,” said Dave Ziola, also a founding member, who belongs to a Lutheran church in Ashland. “We pray for a lot of things, and we accomplish a lot of things through prayer.”

‘WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING’

The digital prayer group began March 18, 2020, as business, church and social activity shut down.

“As soon as COVID hit, everybody was in a state of flux,” recalled Ken Landolt, another founder and a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha. “You couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t do anything. So we kept talking to each other on the phone.”

“The three of us were kind of talking, and we decided, you know, we need to do something and help our country somehow,” Abbott said. “So we decided to pray. We needed to do a rosary.”

That first rosary was prayed via a telephone conference call.

“It just didn’t work well,” Abbott said, “because we were talking over the top of each other, and we just weren’t organized with it.”

Then Landolt helped arrange a Zoom video conference call, with two or three more people joining in the following day.

The Zoom calls have been free of charge as long as the group limits its time to 40 minutes. Participants can control whether they want to participate through video or just audio. They can also pause and go off screen if they need to walk away and tend to some matter.

‘ARE WE DONE?’

“When we first started off, we did like a week, then we’re like, ‘Well now what do we do?’ ” Abbott said. “Then our goal was to hit 90 days, just to do a 90-day novena essentially.”

When they neared that goal, they decided to celebrate by meeting in person at a group member’s home.

“The 90-day mark was special,” Abbott said. “It was more than just being able to see everyone face to face. It was nice because we made a milestone.”

He said he’d never prayed a rosary for 90 days in a row. “So it was really cool to be part of that.”

On day 90, at the end of the evening, members asked “So are we done?”

“No one would say ‘Yeah, I’m not going to do it anymore,’” Abbott said. “So when we left … it was like ‘OK, I’ll see you tomorrow on Zoom.’ We just kept going. We did the same thing at day 300. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’

“So we’ve never said goodbye,” Abbott said. “We just keep going.”

Archbishop George J. Lucas prayed the Zoom rosary with the group on day 300 – Jan. 12, 2021 – at the invitation of Scott Aurit, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Elkhorn. The archbishop’s participation was a highlight for the group, as more than 35 people joined the rosary that evening.

More than 35 people joined in on the online rosary when Archbishop George J. Lucas prayed with them on day 300, Jan. 12, 2021. COURTESY PHOTO

 

JOINING AND RE-JOINING 

During particularly busy times, participation can drop off. Sometimes people join the group for a while, disappear, and later come back, group members said.

That’s OK, they stressed.

“I tell people you don’t need to come every night, but when you need it,” Landolt said. “Because that’s just it – when you’re feeling down, you need somebody right then. There’s got to be something that’s just there all the time. And then when you need it (the rosary), you can tap into it.”

“Last summer I kind of dropped off for a month or two,” Abbott said, while he tended to personal matters. “Then I jumped back in. We’ve had several people who do that. They’ll disappear for a month or so. Then they come back.”

But overall, attendance has been steady, he said.

Ziola said he loves praying for the needs of each other and for needs outside the group, particularly for the suffering souls in purgatory and for relationships, “suffering, hurting, busted-up relationships,” for the “softening of hearts, forgiveness, just overlooking the stupid things we say, you know?”

The group prayed with his grandson, Cade Ziola, before the state high school wrestling competition, in which Cade was competing.

DEEPENING FRIENDSHIPS

People in the rosary group who may have previously been acquaintances or even strangers are now close friends, thanks to the bonds they forged through prayer, Abbott said.

For several of them – including Ziola, Abbott and Landolt – their friendship had begun earlier through their participation in Christians Encounter Christ (CEC) weekends, a means to deepen people’s faith. 

Their friendship continues to grow as they keep in touch and pray together.

Landolt is the evangelizer of the group, who pulls in people to pray, other members said.

“I’d call him a gatherer of people,” Abbott said, “because he knows a lot of people and he’s always recruiting.”

“He is the ultimate evangelist,” Ziola said. “He just gets out there, and he started recruiting people for this rosary. … That’s when he brought Anne in.”

That’s Anne Muehlbauer, a member of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Omaha. 

She joined on day 195. She recalls the exact day because “when God answers a prayer, it kind of sticks in your head.”

Landolt had invited her to join the rosary after meeting her at a Christians Encounter Christ event. Muehlbauer said she’d been praying for someone to pray with.

She told God “I’m getting tired of praying by myself.”

“I told the rosary group, too. I think we were asking for blessings one night, so I told them what a blessing they were to me, that they were God’s answer to me. … Every day I can count on them being there.”

Though she knows she’s part of the family of God, “I struggle with feeling like I fit in,” she said. “So this is a nice reminder that I am” part of that family.

‘A TWO-SIDED BLESSING’ 

Praying the rosary together is a perfect way to end the day, Muehlbauer said.

“No matter how my day’s going, I know this is coming,” she said of the rosary. “I know if I need something prayed for, they’ll do it. … I get out of myself when I hear about them and what they need prayed for. … I’ve got a two-sided blessing there.”

The ZOOM rosary group put the rosary “in the forefront of my life,” Muehlbauer said.

“I think it’s given me a better respect for the rosary,” said Abbott.

“I didn’t grow up Catholic, so I wasn’t familiar with the rosary until I converted when I got married,” he said. “So now I’ve got a different perspective on it. I enjoy the social aspect of it, being able to pray with other people. It’s given me a better appreciation of the rosary and the power that’s within that prayer.”

CHILDREN WELCOMED

Participants sometimes have a lot going on in the background of their ZOOM screens, with small children or grandchildren in view. So they might not lead prayers, but instead hit the mute button and pray quietly with the group, even though they’re surrounded by activity.

The group enjoys when members’ children of all ages take an active role, by leading a decade of the rosary, for example. Even young children can have a role.

“It’s always cool when you can get the little kids to come in and participate,” Abbott said.

Andrew Aurit, age 6 and son of Scott Aurit, has become the darling of the group.

Scott Aurit and his son Andrew, 6, get ready for a ZOOM rosary from their home in Elkhorn. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

 

“Whenever he’s on with us, we have him close with the St. Michael prayer,” Ziola said. “That’s always special. He’s such a good little boy, just the cutest little kid, and as he gets older now, we’re understanding every word he says.”

 Andrew is able to lead a decade of the rosary, praying the first half of the Our Father and Hail Marys. At his age, he might wander off screen to play, but he pops back in when it’s time to lead a decade, with his father at his side.

Marty Pflug, of St. Thomas More Parish in Omaha, usually sings a song at the beginning and end of the rosary, with his wife, Kathy, harmonizing. Other members of the group are musicians, too, and can fill in when the Pflugs are unavailable.

After surpassing two years, praying the rosary together is likely to continue, Abbott said.

“I don’t think there’s any one of us who’s going to say ‘Well, I’m done.’” he said. “For me, anyway, it doesn’t feel right to say ‘Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be here anymore.’”

New people are always welcome to join in the rosary by calling Landolt at 402-880-7000 to get connected.