BRISTOL — During this COVID-19 pandemic, priests across the Diocese of Providence have gone the proverbial extra mile to serve their parishioners, who have expressed a hunger to continue participating in the Mass and other celebrations, albeit via live-streamed video.
But this weekend, on Divine Mercy Sunday, a pastor and his assistant will literally log 65 miles in service to their flock.
Father Henry Zinno, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, and Assistant Pastor Father Stephen Battey will embark on a drive through three local communities as they stop at 112 homes, bringing the Most Blessed Sacrament — enshrined within a monstrance — to the sidewalk, and offering a blessing to individuals and families gathered on their porches, at a safe distance away.
“I thought this would be a great event for Divine Mercy Sunday,” Father Zinno said.
The pastor noted how his parish normally hosts a large event each year on the Second Sunday of Easter to mark the day proclaimed by Saint John Paul II in 2000, at the Canonization Mass for St. Faustina Kowalska for all faithful around the world to recall God’s merciful love.
Historically, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Divine Mercy celebration has featured an afternoon of Exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament and an opportunity for pilgrims to partake in the sacrament of penance with any of six or seven confessors ministering that day.
When Father Zinno saw online a parish in San Diego bringing the monstrance on a tour of the area to reach parishioners sheltering in place at home during Lent, he saw an opportunity to continue his parish tradition in these difficult times, but in a new way.
“Of course, we can’t do [what we normally do] this year, so I thought, well, we’ll bring the Eucharist to the people.”
At the end of Sunday’s 10:30 a.m. Mass, Father Zinno will expose the Blessed Sacrament and bless everyone who could not participate in person before getting into a car driven by Father Battey and head off to Portsmouth to begin the home visits.
The pastor has made it clear to all of those who signed up online to be included on the visit list that each stop will be brief, but the encounter will be meaningful.
“I was jokingly telling people, we can’t stay and talk. It’s maybe like Dine and Dash,” Father Zinno smiled.
“We’re going to alert them when the half hour of opportunity is when we’ll be there. They just have to watch for us. We’ll stand on the curb, and they have to be on their porch or at their front door.”
He said that people he’s spoken with have been very happy to be given an opportunity to participate in the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday in this new and exciting way.
“Even some non-Catholics signed up,” Father Zinno said.
“It’s a way to bring Christ into the streets. It’s a way to bring Christ out of the church, and since we can’t go into the church, we can bring Christ, our Blessed Lord, to others. We want to bring our Blessed Lord to you in a way that respects the rules we are under currently.”
While the social distancing rules may be keeping the faithful away from attending Masses, they have brought the community even closer together online.
The parish offers a 6 p.m. Mass each week on Monday–Friday, a Saturday Mass at 5 p.m., and a Sunday morning Mass at 10:30 a.m., all being live-streamed online and attracting a regular viewership of 600-700 people, with about 800 others watching the uploaded video later on the parish website.
“Many people who aren’t even parishioners have been watching,” Father Zinno said, including his own cousins in Rome.
Following the evening Mass this past Wednesday, Father Zinno, an acclaimed culinarian in his own right, launched an informal live-stream from the rectory kitchen.
Called “Food for the Soul; Food for the Body,” the 7:15 p.m. live-stream on his Facebook page is yet another way that the pastor is keeping in touch with his parishioners, nurturing their hunger for re-engagement with their community.
In his first food webcast, Father Zinno guided viewers on how to create simple appetizers while they are staying at home. The programs are then uploaded to the parish website where they may be viewed at any time. He’s planning to host more live shows on Wednesdays at 7:15 p.m.
“We’re just trying to have some fun with it,” he smiled. “People can see some new things and they can have some fun.”
Parishioner Lisa Dickmann is very much looking forward to standing out on her porch in Bristol on Sunday with her husband to receive the blessing from Father Zinno and Father Battey.
“We’re just really excited,” Dickmann said.
“We’ve been streaming Mass, but it’s just not the same. We’re missing the sacraments. We’re missing all of the joy of the celebration. As much as Father tries to bring it across the internet, it’s lacking. So we’re looking forward to feeling a little bit of joy. It’s really a generous thing for he and Father Steve, coming off the back of Holy Week when they were both very busy, to take on this huge project.”
Dickmann said she does very much appreciate and enjoy all of the parish’s online efforts, especially when she can’t receive for the Eucharist at this time within the context of a church Mass.
“We’re all very thankful for Father Zinno’s level of energy and commitment to shepherding us all through this really difficult time,” she said.
Kathy and Bob Ruginis are helping their pastor with the Divine Mercy celebration on the logistical front.
Bob input into a mapping service program all 112 addresses received via an online request form from those seeking a blessing this Sunday in order to create the most efficient route to reach them all in about a six-hour time frame.
“I think it is the most incredible outreach opportunity that these two wonderful priests have done, and they have done a tremendous amount of outreach, not just to the parish, but to the community,” Kathy Ruginis said.
“I think that we have a community that is so hungry for the sacraments and so hungry to connect with our parish community — which is a very tight community — that everybody is jumping to participate in this. Wow, what a great way to feed our faith.”
Parishioner Chris Civale said that he has derived much spiritual strength from watching his parish’s online Masses and commends Father Zinno for his continued energy in serving his parishioners, even in the face of this health crisis.
“He’s like the Energizer Bunny,” Civale quipped.
“All of us are adjusting to this new normal. It’s nice to have sources of strength, such as the parish and Father Zinno.”
He is looking forward to the blessing his pastor will bestow this Sunday and knows his fellow parishioners also appreciate the lengths he is willing to go to reach out to them.
“It’s such an unnerving time for everybody and Father Zinno takes his responsibilities very seriously and he knows that people need spiritual strength through this crisis, and he’s making sure to get out to everybody that he can.”
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