Text and Photos by Fr. Salvador Gonzalez, OMI, Director, King’s House Retreat Center
On the feast day of Corpus Christi, June 13-14, 2020, two of the Oblate ministry sites in the Diocese of Belleville opened their doors and began to minister again. The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows and Holy Rosary Parish in Fairmont City are two of the three places where the Oblates minister in the diocese. King’s House Retreat Center in Belleville is the third, but it cannot open its doors until the State of Illinois enters phase 4 of the re-opening plan.
Fr. Harold Fisher, OMI, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish, explains the re-opening process at the parish, “We began by gathering a bilingual re-opening team to represent the whole parish, we have a captain and a group of volunteers to help implement the plan at each Mass.” The team is responsible for making reservations for Mass attendance, greeting people at the door, and sanitizing the church after Mass. Fr. Harold knows just how much people missed gathering at the parish. “People like to come and hang out, people used to come and chit-chat, so people missed being here and I missed being with the people,” Said Fr. Harold.
The re-opening at Holy Rosary will be slow and safe, the parish is starting with three Masses and will eventually get back to four weekend Masses. Holy Rosary has Masses in both English and Spanish. Social distancing and wearing masks are required and will take some getting used to. When asked what one thing that is different for him and this ministry, Fr. Harold said that it was not being able to be close to people, ” People would wait for me for about forty-five minutes after Mass just to talk to me, people know that we can’t shake hands and at the end of Mass and that is sad for me.”
At the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, Corpus Christi weekend was also the opening day to return to Mass with some pilgrims present. The Oblates who minister at the Shrine have been busy hearing confessions all week long. The Shrine is known to be a place where a good confessor can be found. For the past week, the Oblates have been hearing confessions twice a day. Fr. Elvis Mwamba, OMI, who has been ministering at the Shrine for over a year as Director of Pilgrim Services said, ” I think it is essential to get back to Mass with people because Mass is where people have an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, and its also where people find strength for all the problems they are living with these days.” Fr. Elvis believes that re-opening Mass with pilgrims is essential for him as an Oblate because, ” We are called to be close to the people, especially when the people are affected by situations that are happening, as an Oblate it is important to be among the people.”
Sandy Lukowsky and her mother, Dorothy Glatz, are Oblate Associates and were present at today’s Mass. Sandy, who ministers as a lector at the Shrine, was delighted to be back for Mass. Sandy and her mother are glad to see that the Shrine staff have taken all precautionary measures to keep everyone safe. “I feel very safe here. I see that the staff is very good at maintaining safety measures. I feel much safer here than at the supermarket,” said Sandy. It was a pleasure to watch people come through the main doors, greeted with a smile by the sacristan and ushers, and then directed to sanitize their hands before being taken to their reserved seating space. The expression of being at home that I witness on the face of the pilgrims as they entered the church was uplifting to see.
The Oblates at King’s House are busy with online spiritual direction through phone and Zoom. A weekly sermon has been uploaded every week to the King’s House website and Facebook page by the Oblates at King’s House, and a Spanish Mass has been streamed every weekend by King’s House to serve the Spanish speaking communities of the area. King’s House will have their first retreat via Zoom this month with Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, this weekend of June 19-21, 2020.
Visit the Online webpages of the Missionary Oblates in Belleville at:
www.snows.org National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows
www.kingsretreatcenter.org King’s House Retreat and Renewal Center
Holy Rosary Parish Facebook page Holy Rosary Parish
www.oblatesusa.org Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate (OMSI, Inc.)
www.omiusa.org Website of the U.S. Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate