A Reston church drives to the peripheries to bring people to Mass

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Lucia Portillo lives close to St. John Neumann Church in Reston by driving standards. But to walk would take her 45 minutes. In the 14 years she’s been a parishioner, Portillo has made the walk many times when she wasn’t able to catch a ride with friends. But with a sore leg, it would be unwise for her to walk the circuitous route now, said Portillo. So she takes the church’s bus.

For several years, St. John Neumann has contracted with Chariots for Hire, a local vehicle rental business, to get parishioners to Sunday Mass. In the morning, the 24-seat bus ferries people from two low-income senior housing complexes. In the afternoon, it brings parishioners to the Spanish-language Mass from a pickup point at a local Safeway, which is more accessible by public transportation than the church.

Deacon Atanacio Sandoval believes the bus is a way for the church to welcome the stranger in their midst. Though St. John Neumann has nearly 11,000 parishioners, they believe it’s important to reach out to the few dozen who have a hard time getting to the church on their own.

“When we started the service, it made me cry to see the excitement on their faces,” said Celia Sandoval, wife of the deacon and Hispanic coordinator of the parish. “Usually in other kinds of faiths they (bus people), but Catholic churches are so big. (The riders) so appreciate what we’re doing.”

All Saints Church in Manassas is another of the few Catholic churches that provides transportation to Sunday Mass. For the 9:30 a.m. service, volunteer drivers use the church’s two buses to pick up seniors at nearby assisted living facilities. Ushers reserve a pew for the 15 or so seniors, said Gillian Quintana, pastoral care director.

“They can watch Mass on TV and Eucharistic ministers do take communion, but there are always those who want to come to church,” she said. “It's a lovely ministry.”

Many of the Hispanic parishioners who take the bus to St. John Neumann are also elderly, or parents with young children. Whether it’s rainy, cold or a sunny fall day, they can avoid the expense and wait of public transportation or the danger of walking along busy Lawyers Road.

“These are very faithful people,” said Celia. “Most of the people have their own cars, thanks be to God, but there are so many who don’t.”

Norma Seguenza is another parishioner who takes the bus. She starting coming to St. John Neumann 10 years ago, and would walk 30 minutes, bike or ride with a friend to Mass before the bus service began. “It’s a gift from God to have this service,” she said. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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