Prayer, accompaniment bear up Hispanics during pandemic
April 30, 2020
A bag of groceries left on a neighbor’s porch. Money tucked into a struggling person’s hand. Families told they’re being held up in prayer.
These are a few of the ways Catholics in the Hispanic community are reaching out to help one another during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Less access to regular health care, the prevalence of underlying conditions associated with the disease and lack of work-from-home opportunities all make the pandemic harder on minorities, and Hispanics are no exception.
But while the economic fallout, financial losses and serious health challenges are real, Catholic Hispanic culture overcomes them by promoting an environment in which people still thrive, said Father Carl Zoucha, pastor of Assumption-Guadalupe Parish in Omaha.
“Their way of living has been to live out the virtue of love of neighbor. So even now in these difficult times, they are giving from what they have,” he said.
Deacon Gregorio Elizalde, manager of the archdiocese’s Hispanic Ministry Office and member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha, explained the Church’s movements, like the familial nature of the Hispanic community, thrive on interpersonal relationships.
So “by relative or friend or neighbor, word of someone in need is getting to these groups,” he said. Social media keeps them connected during this time of social distancing.
Conchita Mayorga and her husband, Guadalupe Lara, are members of Assumption-Guadalupe Parish in Omaha. They have six children and one grandchild at home. As members of Cursillo, an apostolic movement that cultivates Christian leadership, they strive to “evangelize by letting others know that Jesus is alive through one another,” she said.
Their Cursillo group recently learned of a family’s suffering after a loss of employment. “The group raised $300 for them,” she said. “It wasn’t that much … (but) it’s an opportunity to show them they can find Jesus anywhere.”
Eulalia Francisquez, assistant director of Religious Education at Assumption-Guadalupe, said that a post on the parish’s Facebook page invited parishioners to receive palms and share food with local food pantries in a drive-up procession Palm Sunday weekend. Father Zoucha said over 300 families came and filled an SUV with food.
“We are not doing well economically, but the little we can do, we are,” Francisquez said. “Catholic Charities has said, ‘We need your help to be the hands and feet of Jesus at this time of crisis.’ I have seen it in my neighborhood. Some people cannot spare money, but maybe they can share time or lift others with their words.”
SOCIAL DISTANCING AS MERCY
Perhaps the greatest demonstration of evangelizing is bearing the sacrifices of social distancing and its financial hardships with patience and hope, said Father William Bond, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Omaha.
“The whole social distancing is an act of community-wide kindness. People are choosing to make these sacrifices for the most vulnerable – some who are known to us, but many who are not,” he said.
Communication tools, such as Facebook and What’s App, are helping bridge distances. Parishes are livestreaming Masses, devotions and reflections to help priests and other parish ministers accompany members during this difficult time.
“Every day during this pandemic, we are united in prayer for the salvation and deliverance of all people around the world,” Father Jairo Congote, associate pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Schuyler, said of his parish’s offering both Mass and the Divine Mercy Chaplet daily in Spanish.
Many parishes, such as St. Michael Parish in South Sioux City, have continued eucharistic adoration but follow strict rules. Father Anthony Weidner, pastor, said an usher wipes door handles at the church and ensures social distancing is maintained.
Father Bond said his Hispanic parishioners fall evenly into four broad occupational categories: construction, restaurants, meat packing and a miscellaneous group, which includes owners and employees of small businesses such as stores, restaurants and salons.
He said those hit hardest are food servers and hairstylists. He noted few jobs held by Hispanic workers can be done from home.
The Archdiocese of Omaha includes several large meatpacking plants that were still operating as of mid-April. However, plants in Sioux Falls, Grand Island and elsewhere, along with the Hispanic communities that provide them with labor, were experiencing the effects of a spike in COVID-19 cases.
While health concerns are paramount, any circumstance that closes a packing plant would cause catastrophic job loss, Father Weidner said. “This would also impact the food distribution for the rest of the world.”
Extra relief for the unemployed will come from the enhanced unemployment benefits of the federal 2020 Cares Act. Father Bond stressed eligibility to collect “is based on taxes paid, not citizenship. As long as you were employed in the last 20 months and paid taxes, you likely qualify.”
PRAYER AND ACCOMPANIMENT
Being unable to gather physically is difficult for everyone, particularly for Hispanic people, Father Zoucha said, especially since being together is the fabric of life for that community.
Yet even though “people have left the church building, … the church is still there in their homes,” Francisquez of Assumption-Guadalupe said.
A father recently told her that since he is home more, he noticed some of his children struggling with everyday prayers. He began praying with them, and they learned the prayers. “He sees he was the missing link to their learning,” she said.
Home prayer and altars are “a tradition and a talent of the Hispanic community, and renewed prayer during the pandemic is helping a new generation tap into that,” said Father Bond.
Prayer also offers relief from the stress associated with human frailty and today’s uncertainty, said Father Congote. “We don’t know when we are going back to normal life. It can be difficult to talk about, but we know for sure we are in God’s hands,” he said.
This uncertainty and the absence of personal interaction can lead to depression, said Father Weidner. He sees this as an opportunity to embrace the new evangelization by accompanying people in their struggles, helping every person see Jesus in their lives and embrace his deep love for them.
Soledad McCarthy said she is coping by choosing to find joy in ordinary things and maintaining her prayer life. She and her husband, Kelly, a physician at Boys Town Pediatrics, are members of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Omaha. They live in Omaha with her mother, their toddler and five-month-old twins.
“I remind myself each morning, God has given this new day and (I) thank him for it and our health,” she said. “At each meal we thank him as another way of reminding us we are blessed to have food on the table, the roof overhead and that we are healthy.”
While people’s sense of loss is understandable at this time, said Mayorga, she is also choosing to count her blessings and share them with others. “Jesus is still with us in a different way. We need to love one another in this way of being apart and celebrate in a different way to keep our spirit of joy,” she said.
“With patience, the time will come when we will be able to celebrate again together.”