PROVIDENCE — In the midst of a global pandemic, whether you tended to the medical or spiritual needs at the bedside of COVID-19 patients, kept order in the streets as a law enforcement officer, answered the alarm for fire and medical emergencies, provided crucial virus testing and vaccinations as a member of the National Guard, kept the mail delivery flowing, stocked the shelves and served customers in local supermarkets or taught children or young adults in person or remotely to keep them from falling behind in their studies, you all had one thing in common: you served as a much-needed essential worker in a time of crisis.
On Sunday morning, as part of its month-long focus on the extraordinary service provided by all these workers and more over the past year, the Diocese of Providence offered a Mass of Prayer and Thanksgiving for all essential workers at St. Ann’s Church.
Father Albert D. Ranallo, coordinator for Pastoral Care for Health Facilities in the Diocese of Providence and pastor of St. Ann’s Church, welcomed all essential workers in attendance and those who could not make it to the Mass, including police, firemen, members of the National Guard, CNAs, nurses, doctors, grocery workers and truck drivers.
“A big thank you, thank you for your faith, hope and love,” Father Ranallo said.
“By your faith, being a witness to your faith to others, hope, bringing people out of despair. There’s been a lot of despair over the past year-and-a-half. People were losing hope. Just your presence alone made a difference. And for your love and concern and compassion that was there and will be there in the future. So thank you, thank you very much. All that you have done and will do in the future is really appreciated by the Diocese of Providence.”
Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans served as the principal celebrant.
In his greeting to all who had gathered, the bishop spoke about how the mustard seed, the smallest of seeds, becomes the largest of all plants as it grows into a tree whose branches provide refuge for birds.
“So too even the simplest and smallest acts of charity and compassion practiced day in and day out, not seen by many, can bear great fruit encouraging others and building up one another,” Bishop Evans said, referring to their everyday acts of service
that made a world of difference to those who remained at home during the height of the pandemic.
“We gather in prayer this day to Almighty God for all those essential workers, who, without great fanfare, and in the face of a worldwide pandemic, put themselves at risk so others could be safe.”
Father David Ricard, who has served as chaplain at Kent County Hospital for more than 40 years, praised the service of essential workers everywhere noting how we are only now beginning to see and fully appreciate the mission they embark upon every day of their lives.
“This isn’t an isolated episode; this has been their life. COVID is just giving us a snapshot of a portion of that life,” he said. “Their commitment began prior to the virus and will continue thereafter.”
Father Ricard referenced the French theologian John Calvin who introduced the concept of the Sacred Knot and how it binds essential workers together to strengthen them in their mission.
“God has knit a knot of humanity to help us remember that we are not living for ourselves, but for one another,” he said. “That knot is our strength and was knit by Christ and the Spirit has given us strength, he’s given us courage, he’s given us love,” a love each essential worker expressed by each of their own acts.
As chaplain at Kent County Hospital, Father Ricard told Rhode Island Catholic that the experience of the last year for him has been “surreal.”
Father Ricard contracted COVID -19 himself and described the toll it took on him personally.
“I was fatigued beyond belief. I just didn’t have any strength at all; it was amazing.”
While ministering to those with COVID in the hospital he found it difficult because they were isolated and alone.
And while he felt fortunate to be able to go in and out of the hospital as he performed his ministry, the vast majority of essential workers there were deeply entrenched in trying to save lives during a very difficult time.
“Everybody in their own jobs just sacrificed themselves in a sense to make certain that others thrived,” he said.
“They had the wisdom to know that something great was happening, and if we were to survive, we couldn’t survive by having just a piecemeal coalition of people. Rather, people from all walks of life, whether they worked in stores and markets, whether they are police officers, physicians or nurses who were right there on the front lines, spending hours with these people who have COVID — everybody just stopped and realized they had that strength, they had that love, they had a wisdom to enact something great.”
Like Father Ricard, Father Daniel Sweet, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Woonsocket, also contracted COVID-19 at some point while serving as chaplain to the police and fire departments in Woonsocket and North Smithfield, and also ministering at Oakland Grove Nursing Facility in Woonsocket and helping to established vaccination clinics in the local area.
“It’s always good for us as a community to reflect on the blessings that are always there,” said Father Sweet, who concelebrated the Mass.
“The dedication of the first responders is always there, not just in times of emergency, not just in times of a pandemic — it’s always there. As the pandemic eases, it’s really healthy for us to reflect as a community and say that their dedication and self-sacrifice really has shown God’s blessings on us. I think that they stepped forward, not only as part of their job, but as part of their vocation.”
Parishioner Neusa Coutinho, a Certified Nursing Assistant at St. Elizabeth’s Home in East Greenwich, delivered the first reading.
“It was very hard during the pandemic,” she told Rhode Island Catholic. A lot of things unfolded and you have to give it your best. It’s hard. You don’t know if you’re going to be exposed and bring it home to others.”
Coutinho said it was very important that the diocese chose to honor all essential workers in that day’s Mass.
“We want to feel that we are doing a good job and are working to change someone else’s life or help the community,” the mother of four said. “I’m very honored that I was invited to do the first reading today.”
Parishioner Kent Wallace, an educator who teaches at Ana Maria College, as well as other universities in Massachusetts, delivered the second reading. He said that the Mass provided a wonderful opportunity for everyone to show their gratitude and thanksgiving to essential workers for all the selfless service they’ve provided, especially over the past year.
“It shows that everything is a gift from God,” Wallace said.
James Jahnz, director of the diocesan Office of Catholic Charities and Social Ministry, said that it was meaningful for the diocese to be able to show its appreciation and gratitude for those who put their lives on the line every single day.
“This really highlights people who live their lives in service,” Jahnz said. “It’s not just our doctors and our nurses and our police officers and firemen, it’s also our CNAs, it’s also our teachers, and it’s those who have been giving of themselves to others throughout the past year-and-a-half.”
Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. said that while the “good, fair-minded and service-oriented” young men and women who join the police force don’t look for accolades, the Mass of Thanksgiving was very much appreciated.
“We’re thankful, I’m thankful, as the chief of the Providence Police Department, that we’re recognized, not only the police, but fire, school teachers, all the essential workers in the supermarkets and in the hospitals,” Chief Clements said. “We thank the clergy, we thank the diocese for their appreciation of the work we do.”
Chief Clements pointed to an important point Father Ranallo made at the beginning of Mass about the despair he encountered in his ministry.
“We knew it, we lived it, we worked it. There was a lot of despair in this community of Providence and in cities across this country and the world. But there was always hope, and day in and day out the men and women continue to serve this community because there is hope and we see light at the end of the tunnel now.”
“This Mass was meaningful and we’re thankful.”