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Hispanic Catholics pray the rosary online together every night for a year

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Each Sunday, members of the Hispanic community would attend the noon Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington. After worshipping together, they would support parish initiatives by buying parishioner-made Latino food for lunch. Father Donald Planty, pastor, would weave in and out of the crowd, chatting with folks as they ate.

Gradually, they would all spread out to classrooms in the parish center for different classes: religious education, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, adult formation, English as a second language, marriage convalidation and citizenship. By the late afternoon, the parish center would be empty again.

“It's beautiful to see and be together with the community. I love them with all my heart,” said Teresa Reyes, director of Hispanic ministry. “That's where we build strong relationships, spending long hours together.”

That was before the pandemic. It’s been a difficult year for members of the Hispanic community, many recent immigrants from Guatemala who work in hospitality and construction. Many lost their jobs temporarily. Many contracted COVID-19. A few have died.

The parish was there to lend a helping hand. Father Planty sent weekly messages to the community encouraging them to reach out if they needed any help. “It’s like a network,” said Reyes. “If somebody’s car is broken, we know who fixes cars. Recently, I had three families infected (with COVID-19) and I just called somebody, ‘Can you go to this pharmacy, can you bring this to the door?’ ”

They also helped those outside the community. “A homeless man came to get food and he said, ‘The only thing I want is to go back to my country. I lost everything. I have diabetes, I have high blood pressure and I don’t want to get sick and die in this country,’ ” said Reyes. “I said, ‘I don’t know how but you’re going back to your country.’ ” The members pulled together and gave him a plane ticket, clothes and $700 to start a new life in El Salvador.

Most importantly, the community has supported one another spiritually. In addition to livestreamed Mass, in-person Mass and online religious education classes, they stayed connected by praying the rosary together virtually every night for a year. Though some are back to working nights, at its peak around 90 families attended. Many Catholics who had never prayed the rosary before learned to love the devotion.

Zosimo Salome relied on the parish both spiritually and materially. The leader of the parish Charismatic Renewal prayer group and a father of six temporarily lost his job and received assistance from the parish food pantry to feed his family. Though he and his family prayed together at home before the pandemic, they joined the nightly rosary almost as soon as it began. “It united us more as a family and united us to the community,” said Salome through a translator.

As weeks of the rosary continued, they decided that different groups would take turns leading each day. On Saturday, the children lead the prayers.

“It's very touching because you see kids from like kindergarten to eighth grade praying and demonstrating the faith,” said eighth grader Lisania Cruz. “I have a lot of family at this church and it’s nice to see maybe your little cousin praying the rosary. It’s very joyful at times.”

“In my opinion I think everybody should be doing this because it's a very helpful way to social distance but we’ve gotten closer as a community not only to our community but to the church,” said sixth grader Nathalie España. 

“I think it’s really nice,” said fifth grader Beatriz Montesflores. “They’re like angels all praying in unity, and we’re all praying to God to help us in these difficult times.”

When the pandemic began, Reyes had never even heard of Zoom. But she and the Hispanic community overcame big and small obstacles to remain one body of Christ. “The most important thing for me as the director was to keep the community close and not lose our faith because it was hard times,” said Reyes. “I'm so thankful to God and to Our Lady who always guide us and help us, but also to the community. I always say to them, ‘Let’s hold hands and go through together with the blessing of our mother who guides us to Jesus,’ and that’s what we did.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

@ZoeyMaraistACH