For the first time ever, Catholic churches in the San Antonio Archdiocese and across the country were empty this weekend due to the call for social distancing brought on by the Covid-19 virus. But for many priests, like Father Antonio Hernandez of our local St. Joseph Parish, the mass is sacred and must go on. This belief as well as a call to keep his parishioners connected in faith during this difficult time of isolation, pushed him to find ways to continue celebrating mass. He talked with the Archdiocese and got permission to continue mass and record a live broadcast of the Sunday mass with an understanding there could be no more than 10 persons in attendance.
That decision made, the question was, how to get it done in just two days. Enter, local technical expert and St. Joseph parishioner, Matt Balderrama. He worked all day Saturday and into the wee hours of the morning to make sure they had the right equipment in place to make the broadcast happen.
What happened Sunday morning was “beautiful,” as many parishioners called it. The decision was made to carry the broadcast on Facebook and in hindsight, this was fortunate. Facebook messages allowed the parishioners to participate in the mass not just watch.
As the mass unfolded many of the viewers typed in their usual responses like, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” and, “Lord, hear our prayers.” Other messages expressed thanks to Father Antonio and those who had made it possible. Family members from different parts of the State were able to participate in mass together through their messages. The connection that Father Antonio had wanted went beyond his expectations.
Parents, like Ali Null typed, “Thank you! My children were quiet for once and I could focus and listen the whole time!” Cindy Rizo posted a picture of her grandchildren Sterling Grace Rizo and Emberley Rose watching the mass on a laptop with their grandfather, Steve Rizo. Her typed message was, “Our granddaughters joined us this morning. Thank you all for making this possible.”
During the live broadcast taping, Matt Balderrama reported that the highest number of viewers went up to 310. He posted the recording of the video on both Facebook and YouTube. As of Monday, there had been 4315 people reached by the live mass recording.
When asked about his part in the event Balderrama said, “I was beyond ecstatic to be a part of this. A big thankyou to all the parishioners that helped make this happen. It was great to see the community come together through the grace of God,” and with a smile he added, “I think we should set things up so we can do this every Sunday.”
The people who viewed the mass heard a message through Scripture and Father Antonio with encouragement to trust in God during these trying times. Psalm 23 was read, “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil for you are here by my side,” appropriate for the times we live in. St. Paul’s message of how we should “Live as children of the light, and take no part in the fruitlessness of darkness,” rings true today. And in John, Jesus says, “Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” The readings, decided long ago by a liturgical calendar, could have been hand picked for just this day.
Father Antonio’s message encouraged viewers to pray for the needs of the world which is suffering from this illness. He advised his listeners to, “Watch mass on TV or social media with devotion and attention, well dressed in a pure heart,” and even though many are suffering across our world, he pointed out that, “God in his infinite wisdom knows the positive consequences of the situation. We should have confidence in the infinite wisdom of God.”
Other local churches that provided live messages for their congregations were the First Baptist Church and First United Methodist church of Devine as well as the First Baptist Church and Trinity Baptist church of Lytle. Anyone can visit the Facebook pages of these churches and listen to words of encouragement for getting through this emergency. All churches seem prepared to continue connecting to their community with live messages throughout this “social distancing” brought on by the covid-19 virus.
By Candace De Jesus