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The church in the epicenter of the virus in New York is leading the people out of sadness

NEW YORK (AP) – For nearly two decades, Juan Tapia, the head of the Lady of Sorrows service department, has been proud of preserving the Roman Catholic Church, which he considers his second home. But in recent months, he has set himself the task of scraping every corner.

“All those death experiences we had to go through make me do my job very carefully because I don’t want anyone to get infected,” said Tapia, who sometimes wears a suit to clean the walls between services. ,

More than 100 people in the parish of Queens, mainly Latin America, died of COVID-19, many of them in the early days of the epidemic. And Tapia’s family was not spared.

Tapia’s son, Juan Jr., worked with him in church. The son was diagnosed with lung cancer before being infected with the virus by the whole family. He died on May 6, the anniversary of his baptism, more than 20 years ago. He was 27 years old.

“No family should go through that,” said his father.

The depth of Our Lady of Sorrows became apparent months later when this nearly 150-year-old church was the hotspot of the New York coronavirus. His pastor says the number of deaths was low in the early days because church officials did not have accurate information, and many feared the stigma attached to the disease.

Many of them are undocumented, have no health services, share crowded apartments, which makes them vulnerable to infections. The inflation rate was exacerbated by record job losses and rising food insecurity.

But the church helped get out of those dark times by setting up a free COVID-19 test site, resuming closed confessions when it was safe, partly to disinfect a wooden denomination dedicated to Juan Tapia. He recently cleaned the edges of the palm, which will be used on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.

“Faith has made a difference for our people here, because this church is truly the epicenter of the caring life of this region,” said Pastor Manuel Rodriguez.

Our Lady of Sorrows, with 17,000 members, is the largest parish in Brooklyn, which oversees the churches of Queens. Rodriguez said that up to 1,000 people usually complete each of the 12 Sunday liturgies by 2020. Stopping personal services in March when the city was closed for the rapidly spreading virus. Many in the Khaka community, including his former pastor, Monsignor. Raymond Rodin. He fell ill at the beginning of the epidemic.

Far from their church, the parishioners were silently suffering. Tapia said that when he and his wife became infected with the virus, they were afraid of spreading it to their already weak, cancer-stricken son.

“We could not even hug a cup of water, a cup of tea,” he said. Isolated in their bedroom, they relied on one of their daughters to care for her.

They still do not know whether he was caught in hospital COVID-19 or transferred. Almost a year later, his wife still can not talk about the death of their youngest child and only son.

“This epidemic has left such a mark on us that nothing else will happen,” said Tapia.

Rodriguez was brought from another parish in late June, and the church reopened briefly on July 4. “I thought to myself. If we keep this church closed for another day, people here, they will just start falling apart. ”

Since there was a restriction on gathering inside, he rented a huge tent set up in the parking lot for the open-air liturgy և confession.

“Confession allows you to meet people one by one, so it’s really healing,” Rodriguez said. The church also organized food carriers and purchased new cameras to improve the live streaming quality of its masses.

Working seven days a week in a van, the test site was created by Helen Arteaga Landaverde, a former student of the church’s former parish համայն, who established the Plaza del Sol Family Health Center in Corona. Rodriguez asked for his help after another priest tested positive, and he contacted the NYC COVID-19 Test & Trace Corps to put it to work.

“The mobile unit has become part of the church. “It’s Sunday, and now it ‘s like,’ Oh, we’re going to church, we’re all going to have a family test together, ‘” Arteaga said. “It reduces anxiety, it normalizes that testing is not a bad thing.”

Arteaga contracted the virus in April and borrowed money from a nearby Elmhurst hospital to save his life. After recovering, he became the new director general of the hospital. The survival of COVID-19 has helped him better understand the needs of hospital patients and members of his congregation.

“Even when you say V TIK, you feel this weight in our church. You feel this thing. “How are we going to overcome that, since it is still here?” said Arteaga.

“But now we have tools. We have our faith, we have a vaccine, we still have to breathe every day to move. ”

On the first Sunday in spring, hundreds of masks turned to closed liturgies as many listened to outside speakers bowing their heads or kneeling on stone steps. People lined up for the experiment, the vendors selling shrimp sauce, clothes and ice cream.

Maria Quippi said she was praying for the soul of her father, Manuel Quishpi, who died in 1959 from COVID-19 on April 9.

The whole family became infected with the virus. For a moment Quizhpi became so weak that he fainted in the kitchen of their apartment. Her husband was resuscitating her 17-year-old daughter և 9-year-old son in horror.

“Every time I come here, I thank God for saving my mother’s life,” said daughter Melanie Morocho.

The family is grateful to be able to gather around the church with others who are also mourning their loved ones.

“It left us with a huge emptiness,” Quizpi said. “But we are still happy, joyful, because we have another chance to live and draw closer to God.”


Religious coverage of the Associated Press is supported by Lilly Endowment through a US talk show. AP is solely responsible for this content.



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