PROVIDENCE — Although the frontlines themselves have finally faded, the bravery displayed by frontline workers over the past two years continues to inspire gratitude in the Diocese of Providence.
The COVID-19 pandemic served as a solemn reminder of just how many forms of labor are essential to maintaining our complex modern society, and helped to enkindle a newfound appreciation for the sometimes overlooked workers who keep the shelves of our grocery stores well-stocked, the streets of our communities safe, and the wheels on our busses going round and round.
A grateful Diocese of Providence first offered a Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving for essential workers last year, when the efforts of medical professionals seemed to be finally turning the tide in the struggle against COVID-19. On Sunday, May 15, the second annual Mass offered parishioners at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Providence the opportunity to reaffirm their gratitude for the men and women who keep our communities running.
“From medical workers to truck drivers to funeral directors — there were so many individuals willing to sacrifice so much to be of continued service to others,” said Father Albert D. Ranallo in his opening remarks. “Whether they were in our nursing homes or on our streets, they continued to do their jobs with professionalism and grace.”
Father Ranallo is the pastor of Providence’s St. Ann Church, as well as the diocesan coordinator of Pastoral Care for Healthcare Facilities. He concelebrated the Mass with Father Joseph Escobar, the pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary; and Father John A. Kiley, ecumenical officer of the diocese. They were assisted by Deacon Victorino M. Andrade.
According to Father Ranallo and Kathy McKeon, a consultant to the diocese’s Office of Healthcare Ministry, the hope is that this annual event will become a rotating celebration, visiting a new parish within the diocese each year.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for parishes to remember and celebrate the essential work performed by the members of their own communities,” McKeon said. “As soon as we reached out to Father Escobar this year, he didn’t hesitate for a moment. He was so excited to help us bring this to his parish.”
For his part, Father Escobar has personal connections to at least one community of essential workers, serving as the chaplain to the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association. Many of the officers attending Sunday’s Mass did so at Father Escobar’s invitation, including the chiefs of the Woonsocket, Lincoln and Bristol Police Departments.
“We’re very proud of our essential workers, both in the parish and in the community,” Father Escobar explained. “This Mass was a small way of supporting them and thanking them for everything they have done to keep us healthy and safe.”
The homily was offered by Father Kiley, who interpreted the challenges faced by essential workers in light of the day’s reading from Revelation.
“In the midst of calamity and catastrophe, the talented hands of medical personnel, the swift action of police and firefighters, the dependability of educators and social workers, and the reliability of food and drug providers offer a welcome glimpse of the ultimate fulfillment promised in Scripture… ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away,’” Father Kiley said.
“As the world awaits this new order, the care and concern of essential workers daily confirms the basic goodness of human nature and daily provides a renewed basis for hope. For them, Rhode Island’s residents are truly grateful!”
A number of essential workers (including parishioners from Our Lady of the Rosary and visitors from parishes throughout the diocese) were present at the Mass, joining in the processional clad in scrubs, combat fatigues and the various other uniforms of their trades.
For Sgt. Paulo Rodrigues, a religious affairs specialist with the R.I. Air National Guard and a parishioner at St. Teresa Parish in Pawtucket, the Mass represented a chance to give thanks for the resiliency which allowed him and his fellow Guardsmen to adapt to the constantly shifting demands of the pandemic.
“I was tasked with contact tracing at the outbreak of the pandemic, which meant developing a protocol and then changing it every day to keep up with the latest updates,” Rodrigues said. “Like many members of the Guard, I had to be reassigned away from my primary role — but learning to adapt and serve wherever you’re needed is just part of the military lifestyle.”
This same sense of resourcefulness was displayed by our civilian essential workers as well, as explained by Elizabeth Januskiewicz, an Our Lady of the Rosary parishioner and funeral director at the Carpenter-Jenks Funeral Home in West Warwick.
“We had to get very creative,” Januskiewicz said. “The safety standards kept changing every day, but even during the best periods, social distancing restrictions meant we needed to find new ways to allow loved ones to feel present during services, even when they couldn’t physically be there. With the increase in funerals during the height of the pandemic, this became a very difficult process.”
The organizers of the celebration noted that although they certainly hope that we will never again need to refer to them as “frontline” workers, the labor performed by our medical professionals, civil servants, clergy, and members of the service industry will always be “essential.” And as the nation and world emerge from the chaos of the past two years, it is fitting for all to remember that and to thank them — and God — for the continued gift of their service.
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