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Light amid the danger

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The beauty of Carmen Flórez-Mansi’s voice mixed with church bells on Easter morning as Archbishop John C. Wester delivered a symbolic blessing to all people from the front steps of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe.

“We ask God’s blessing on our City of Holy Faith and on all of us,” Wester, the leader of the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe, said moments earlier, his voice echoing as he stood in front of the cathedral’s baptismal font.

Archbishop John C. Wester, left, and Rev. Timothy A. Martinez celebrate Mass in an empty cathedral on Easter Sunday. Congregations have been forced to change the way they worship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Source: Archdiocese of Santa Fe)

The altar was adorned with Easter lilies and deep blue hydrangeas as ornate angels looked down from the vaulted ceiling. On any other Easter morning, the sanctuary would be packed with parishioners celebrating Christ’s resurrection, the holiest day on the Christian calendar.

But on this Easter, the pews were empty as Wester and Father Timothy Martinez celebrated Mass in a lonely cathedral due to the COVID-19 outbreak in New Mexico.

Archbishop John C. Wester delivers a symbolic blessing to all people on the front steps of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe on Sunday. (Source: Archdiocese of Santa Fe)

Places of worship throughout New Mexico and the nation were forced to forgo large crowds because of the pandemic, but thousands of faithful still came together to celebrate Easter through online streams, drive-ins and even radio broadcasts.

“We pray that our scientists will come up with a cure quickly and a vaccine,” Wester said during his service, which was broadcast on Facebook. “But I do know that the light of Christ is already healing us – that the light of Christ is already shining brightly in our midst and bringing us new life even in the midst of the dark clouds of the pandemic.”

Roughly 900 families watched the Mass live.

Cars line up on Osuna before entering the parking lot for the Easter Sunday drive-in service at Calvary Church. For a video of the service, go to ABQJournal.com (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Ordinarily, Flórez-Mansi, the cathedral’s music director, would be accompanied by an orchestra and a chorus of at least 70. This year, she sang and played the piano, accompanied by a single vocalist.

“I miss obviously the cathedral’s vibrant worship, hundreds and hundreds of people each week. I miss the parishioners…”

But, she added, Sunday’s Mass was “equally as beautiful” even if it was different.

Hope amid the pandemic

At Calvary Church in Albuquerque, participants were up before 7 a.m. to stake out a spot for the church’s drive-in service. Engines hummed as drivers tuned their radios to Calvary’s radio broadcast. Senior Pastor Skip Heitzig preached from the main stage flanked by two looming monitors. As Heitzig delivered his message focused on hope amid the pandemic, a chorus of car horns erupted within the parking lot as hundreds of participants rejoiced at the pastor’s words.

Pastor Skip Heitzig presides over Easter Sunday drive-in service at Calvary Church. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

“Whether you have a pandemic or not, celebrating Easter will never change,” Heitzig said. “The way we celebrate it will change – we’re obviously celebrating it in a different way.”

Lilian Casias watches Skip Heitzig, pastor of Calvary Church in Albuquerque, preside over Easter Sunday drive-in service. Hundreds attended. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

There was a stay-in-car order from Calvary, but families still put on their Sunday best and packed everyone in their car, like Amy Gibson, who drove herself, her husband and three other family members.

Calvary Church’s Skip Heitzig, clad in a mask, set to preside over Easter Sunday drive-in service. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

This Easter was Gibson’s first time at a sunrise service and, like everyone else, her first time attending a drive-in service during a pandemic.

“I felt like I was a part of the community even though we were all in our car where we could do it safely,” Gibson said.

If not for the pandemic, Gibson said, she would be spending time with other family members at her father-in-law’s house. This year she and her family will keep it small, eating brunch and then hunting for Easter eggs in her backyard.

Injunction sought

Legacy Church streamed its services online.

Pastor Steven Smothermon largely focused his Easter Sunday service on resurrection and hope, but mentions of the pandemic filtered through.

“With everything going on, we may be physically distanced but in the spirit we are connected,” Smothermon said.

Smothermon highlighted the ways in which Legacy Church has been making charitable strides through care packages and food donations to help those affected by the virus – and the accompanying economic upheaval. But he also spoke out against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Saturday order banning large gatherings at places of worship.

“I don’t care what’s going on, you don’t attack the church,” he said near the end of his sermon.

Smothermon’s church filed a request for an injunction in federal court in an effort to block the governor’s order.

‘Deliver us from danger’

At the cathedral in Santa Fe, Archbishop Wester acknowledged that “it’s a very difficult Easter for all of us.”

But he told parishioners that Jesus was with them, and he called on them to rise to the occasion and connect with people by calling elderly relatives, texting, and even “posting something on our Facebook page, however you do that.”

“Let’s be a little kinder to one another, a little more patient with one another, let’s listen more and talk less,” he said, adding that we should appreciate the presence of our loved ones “with all their foibles and all their little annoying habits.”

Wester called on the Lord to “deliver us from the danger we are in” and asked him to be “with those who contracted the coronavirus and who have COVID-19,” along with “medical providers and our grocers and delivery persons and first responders and all those who are so bravely serving us during these days of crisis.

“We pray that he’ll be with our leaders, with all those who have responsibility to keep us safe,” Wester added, “but we pray also that on a deeper level still the risen Christ will heal us and bring us together and give us hope.”

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