By Maria Wiering
Minneapolis, USA, (The Catholic Spirit) – On March 24, four priests conferred with a map of northeast Minneapolis split into quadrants and headed out on their designated routes.
Each had the Eucharist with them in a monstrance or pyx. In four cars, they drove through the neighborhoods, blessing them and the people who live there as they prayed the rosary and other devotions. Some parishioners came to their doors or yards to pray. Some followed in their cars, forming an impromptu procession.
One of the priests, Chorbishop Sharbel Maroun, pastor of St Maron’s Maronite Rite Catholic Church, stood through the sunroof of a white SUV, holding the monstrance high as praise music streamed from the vehicle’s speakers.
For many Catholics, the blessing was a welcome connection to the Eucharist. Since March 18, public Masses have been suspended in the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“The basis for all of our efforts is to remain committed to our neighborhood, as many are home, and to show that the Church is still present in these neighborhoods,” said Father Spencer Howe, pastor of Holy Cross in northeast Minneapolis, who was among the priests who offered the blessing. “In a very particular way, the priests are attentive to the intercession for the people of God. There’s been a strong desire to stay visible and to establish communication, but one of the best ways of communication is physical presence, and that includes the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.”
The other participating priests were Father Byron Hagan, parochial vicar for faith formation at Holy Cross, and Father Bryce Evans, a priest-in-residence at the parish who ministers nearby at Our Lady of Lourdes. They used a tracking feature on Google Maps to let parishioners know where they were during the hour-long blessing drive. They drove from 3-4 p.m., traditionally known as “the hour of mercy” because it recalls the time of day Jesus died on the cross.
“It was a really fun effort, and it really brought a lot of encouragement to people who were able to see us pass by their homes,” Father Howe told The Catholic Spirit March 26. “We saw a lot of people kneeling in their front windows or at their front doors. I think on the whole, people were really appreciative to have a creative idea and a way to stay connected.”
Father Howe said he was inspired, in part, by the title of one of St. Josemaria Escriva’s works, “Christ is Passing By,” but he gave the credit overall to Chorbishop Maroun.
“All the good ideas in northeast are coming from Chorbishop Sharbel,” he said. “He’s just got a really zealous heart and a desire to serve. He had the idea of a eucharistic procession, originally walking, and then we decided to use the cars because it would give us more reach.”
Northeast Minneapolis is home to a large annual eucharistic procession that brings together Catholics from its many parishes.
Father Howe said that the priests may do the car blessing again. They want to respect the social distancing parameters ordered by Governor. Tim Walz while finding ways “to bring Christ out to his people,” he said.
Northeast Minneapolis’ priests have also been holding daily drive-in confessions in St. Maron’s parking lot from noon to 3 p.m. The confessions are continuing through Minnesota’s stay-at-home orders, according to Holy Cross’ Facebook page.
Asked what’s been on his heart as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, Father Spencer said that he’s been reflecting on Church history.
“These are historic and unprecedented times, but I think creativity flows from fidelity to Christ and responding to what he asks us to do,” he said. “I don’t take much credit. I know that these things are happening in other parts of the country and world. But because they’re happening here, they make a real difference and they make a real impact.”