FAITH IN A TIME OF CRISIS

OFFERS CATHOLIC CHURCH’S MESSAGE IN THIS “TIME OF GREAT PAIN AND SUFFERING”

THOSE WHO ARE SUFFERING “ACCOMPANIED BY OUR PRAYERS”

TRIBUTE AND REMEMBRANCE OF FATHER JORGE ORTIZ, BROOKLYN PASTOR WHO WAS FIRST CATHOLIC PRIEST IN THE U.S. TO DIE OF COVID-19

This week, as Christians around the world observe Holy Week, they do so against the backdrop of a deadly global pandemic that has placed severe restrictions on the way people of all faiths are able to congregate and worship. Monsignor Kieran Harrington, Vicar for Communications for the Archdiocese of Brooklyn, and Rector of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights, joins MetroFocus to talk about the impact of coronavirus on his parish and the Christian community as a whole. He also addresses the current debate on whether churches should be allowed to open their doors, and offers a remembrance of Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay, the first priest in the U.S. to die as a result of COVID-19.

Aired on April 8, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

WE ARE PROLIFE.

THEREFORE WE CANNOT TAKE ANY RISK WITH ANY LIVES.

WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON THIS?

OBVIOUSLY THIS IS A VERY PAINFUL MOMENT IN LIFE AND CHURCH AND EASTER IS THE HIGHEST HOLY DAYS FOR CHRISTIANS AND AT THE SAME TIME THIS IS A MOMENT OF GREAT SUFFERING.

PARTICULARLY IN OUR CITY.

TODAY THE DEATH TOLL REACHED THE HIGHEST IN WEEKS SO WE ARE DEALING WITH THIS SUFFERING.

THE ONLY THING I CAN SAY IS THE PRAYER JESUS OFFERS IN JOHN 17 THE HIGH PRIESTLY PRAYER JESUS PRAYS WE MIGHT BE AS ONE.

IT IS A GREAT SUFFERING FOR THOSE WHO CAN'T CELEBRATE EASTER.

AND IN MANY PARTS OF THE WORLD YOU THINK ABOUT PLACES IN THE AMAZON REGION, THEY DON'T -- -- YOU THINK ABOUT THOSE SUFFERING.

I SEE THIS AS A MOMENT FOR THE ENTIRE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY HERE IF THE UNITED STATES AND PERHAPS THE REST OF THE WORLD IN A WAY WE CAN IDENTIFY WITH THE CHURCH WHICH IS SUFFERING IN PLACES WHERE THERE'S GREAT PERSECUTION OR SCARITY.

YOU KNOW, A RECENT WALL STREET JOURNAL ARTICLE FRAMED THIS DEBATE GOING ON IN THE CHURCH AS A DEBATE BETWEEN LIBERAL CATHOLICS AND CONSERVATIVE WITH CONSERVATIVE CATHOLICS BEING THE ONES THAT WANT TO REOPEN CHURCHES AND RESUME PUBLIC MASSES AND THE LIBERAL CATHOLICS SAYING NO WE GOT TO KEEP THE CHURCH DOOR CLOSED.

DO YOU ACCEPT THAT FRAMING OF LEFT AND RIGHT?

NOT REALLY.

I MEAN I HEAR FROM MY FRIENDS WHO SOME FRIENDS OF MINE ARE VERY LIBERAL AND WANT CHURCH OPEN AND SOME CONSERVATIVES WANT IT CLOSE.

I THINK HOW WE SUFFER AS CHRISTIANS, I THINK THAT ALL OF US ARE PRIMARILY CONCERNED WITH THE FACT SO MANY ARE SUFFERING IN HOSPITAL AS LOAN.

-- ALONE.

AT 3:00 EACH DAY WE RING THE BELL, WE CALL IT THE BELL OF HOPE.

YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU RING THE BELL THAT LONG, I HEARD SOMEONE SAY, IT SCARE MEZ, THE POINT IS, WELL, DEATH IS SCARY.

BUT IT'S NOT ABOUT GIVING YOU HOPE.

THE PERSON WHO IS LIVING.

IT IS TO GIVE A PERSON HOPE WHO IS IN THE BED BY THEMSELVES.

WHEN THEY HEAR THE BELL THEY KNOW THEY'RE NOT BY THEMSELVES.

THEY'RE ACCOMPANIED BY OUR PRAYERS.

FOR US IF WE CAN'T PHYSICALLY BE PRESENT HOW CAN WE PRESENT IN OTHER WAYS.

THAT'S WHAT WE'RE TRYING TO DO.

I THINK THAT'S WHERE MAYBE SOME OF THE FRUSTRATION AN ANGER GETS DISPLACED AND BECOMES A BIT OF DIVISION.

GO BACK TO THE PRIESTLY PRAYER OF JESUS.

HE DOES THAT AT THE LAST SUPPER.

I THINK THAT'S WHERE WE SHOULD TAKE OUR LEAD.

YOU KNOW, FATHER, YOU TOUCHED ON IT.

THE PRIEST I SPEAK WITH, THEIR FRUSTRATION AND SADNESS AND ANGER IS NOT SO MUCH ABOUT THE PUBLIC MASS OR NOT IT'S ABOUT THE FACT THEY CAN'T ACCOMPANY SOME OF THE PARTITIONERS IN THE MOST DIEING MOMENTS, SICK IN THE HOSPITAL, DIEING IN THE HOSPITAL, A LOT OF THEM WITH ARE ARE DIEING BY THEMSELVES WITHOUT THE FAMILY AND WITHOUT THE PRIEST.

HAS THAT BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE?

YES IT HAS BEEN.

TALKED ABOUT IT EARLIER.

FATHER ORTIZ, AN ASSOCIATE HERE AND HAD BECOME SICK A FEW WEEKS AGO.

IT WAS ABSOLUTELY THE EXPERIENCE.

I REMEMBER, YOU KNOW, TWO DAYS BEFORE HE DIED HE FACETIMED ME AND WE PRAYED AND I KNEW AT THAT MOMENT AS WE WERE TALKING, HE WAS TELLING ME WHAT HIS FINAL WISHES WERE, AND HE SAID TO ME, I WISH YOU COULD COME SEE ME.

AND I THOUGHT TO MYSELF AND SOMEONE'S DIEING AND ASK YOU TO SEE THEM, YOU GO.

SO I WENT TO SEE HIM.

AT THAT HOSPITAL HE WAS IN, I GUESS THEY DIDN'T HAVE THE SAME SORT OF SECURITY MEASURES SO I WAS ABLE TO VISIT WITH HIM.

BUT THEN I LEFT THERE, I FOUND OUT THAT SAME DAY ONE OF MY PARISHERS HAD THE CORONAVIRUS AND WENT TO THAT HOSPITAL AND THEY WOULD NOT LET ME IN.

I KEPT THINKING HERE'S ONE PERSON WHO WHEN I WENT TO SEE HIM, I COULD SEE HIS ANGUISH AND TWO DAYS LATER HE WAS DEAD AND SHE WHO WAS IN THE HOSPITAL FOR ANOTHER EIGHT DAYS, AND SHE SUFFERED, SHE SUFFERED BY HERSELF.

NOW THE QUESTION THEN BECOMES WHOSE INTEREST WAS SERVED, GOING, IS IT MY INTEREST TO BE USEFUL, OR IS IT THEIR NEED, THEIR SPIRITUAL NEED.

THIS IS WHERE IN THE ECONOMY, THE MYSTERY OF SALVATION, THIS IS HOW THINGS HAVE TO GRASP SO WHAT ARE WE TO DO IN THE MIDST OF THIS FRUSTRATION, WELL, THE ONLY THING WE IT DO IS WE CAN PRAY.

WE HAVE TO STAY AWAKE.

WE'RE IN THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE AND WE'RE GOING TO THE CROSS SO WE HAVE TO BE FAITHFUL IN TERMS OF PRAYER.

AND YOU TALKED ABOUT FATHER ORTIZ'S LAST DAYS, THE NEW YORK TIMES HAD A PIECE ABOUT HIM, HE WAS AN EXCEPTIONAL HUMAN BEING.

ALMOST 100 PRIESTS DIED IN ITALY, MANY SACRIFICIALLY TO HELP OTHERS.

HE IS THE FIRST PRIVATE TO DIE IN THE -- PRIEST TO DIE IN THE UNITED STATES THAT WE KNOW OF.

I WONDER IF YOU COULD TALK ABOUT HIM.

A GREAT GUY FROM A FAIRLY WEALTHY MEXICAN FAMILY.

HE CAME HERE REALLY AS A MEMBER OF A RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY AND BECAME A PRIEST OF THE DIOCESE AND WAS ORDER TANED -- ORDAINED IN 2004 AND CAME TO BROOKLYN IN 2009, MY ASSOCIATE, A REALLY REMARKABLE GUY.

WHAT STANDS OUT IS HE IDENTIFIED WITH PAUL PEOPLE, WHETHER -- ALL PEOPLE.

WHETHER A SPANISH OR ENGLISH SPEAKER.

HE WAS DEDICATED AND ZEALOUS.

HE WAS ONLY FIRE WITH THE LOVE OF THE LORD.

I WILL SAY HE WAS SCARED TO DIE LIKE ANYBODY WOULD BE SCARED TO DIE IN THIS MOMENT.

BUT HE HAD CONFIDENCE IN GOD'S LOVE AND MERCY AND WHAT HE WANTED TO MAKE SURE IS THAT HE WOULD STAY FAITHFUL TO THE END AND I BELIEVE HE WAS.

AND SO NOW I BELIEVE HE IS IN GLORY.

WELL MONSIGNOR, HERE WE ARE, IT'S HOLY WEEK, AS YOU SAID, THE MOST IMPORTANT WEEK OF THE CHRISTIAN CALENDAR.

AND IT HAPPENS TO COINCIDE WITH THE SURGE OF THIS PANDEMIC HERE, AT LEAST IN NEW YORK, IN THE TRI-STATE AREA, SO CLEARLY IT'S NOT GOING TO GET PUBLIC GATHERINGS ON EASTER SUNDAY.

WHAT CAN THE CHURCH DO TO MAKE SURE THAT THE FAITHFUL, THAT THEIR EXPERIENCE OF THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST IS NOT DIMINISHED FOR THEM THIS YEAR.

YEAH.

WELL, SO, ONE THING IS THAT BECAUSE WE HAVE TO SOCIALLY DISTANCE DOES NOT MEAN WE HAVE TO BE SPIRITUALLY REMOVED FROM ONE ANOTHER.

YOU KNOW.

WE HAVE TO WALK WITH ONE ANOTHER AND WE DO THAT BY OUR PRAYER AND WE CAN DO THAT IN OUR PRAYER BY THE USE OF TECHNOLOGY.

AS I MENTIONED, WE SPOKE TO MANY PEOPLE BY FACETIME IN THOSE LAST DAYS SO THAT IS SOMETHING TO KEEP IN MIND, TECHNOLOGY SHOULD ENABLE COMMUNION.

WE HAVE TO PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER.

AND THE FACT IS, WHILE WE MAY NOT BE ABLE TO GO TO CHURCH DOES NOT MEAN WE'RE AB SOLVED FROM CELEBRATING THESE HOLY DAYS SO HOW WE CAN CELEBRATE IT IS TO READ THE READINGS, READ THE PASSION OF OUR LORD, TO JOURNEY WITH OUR LORD IN A MYSTICAL WAY, USING OUR IMAGINATION, PERHAPS JOINING MASSES VIA LIVE STREAMING OR BY TELEVISION.

SO WE CAN TRY TO BE IN COMMUNION PRESENT TO EACH OF THOSE EXPERIENCES.

SO, THERE ARE MANY WAYS IN WHICH WE AS INDIVIDUALS CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WHAT IS BEING OFFERED ELECTRONICALLY BY CHURCHES THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY, BECAUSE WE HAVE THE USE OF TECHNOLOGY BUT ALSO THEN TO REALIZE THAT WE'RE IN COMMUNION BECAUSE OF OUR PRAYER WITH ONE ANOTHER.

YOU KNOW, WHEN I'M CELEBRATING THE MASS ON TV AND YOU'RE SITTING IN YOUR HOME IN PROSPECT HEIGHTS, YOU KNOW, YOU ARE PRESENT TO THAT UCHRIST CELEBRATION, THE PRESENCE OF THE CROSS IS FROENT YOU IN THAT MOMENT.

A PERSON WHILE WATCHING FROM TELEVISION CAN BE VERY PRESENT.

BUT IT REALLY IS AN ACT OF THE WILL.

THAT'S WHAT PEOPLE ARE PULLED TO DO.

IS TO MAKE THIS ACT OF THE WILL.

TO JOURNEY WITH CHRIST NOW THESE DAYS THROUGH THE EXPERIENCE OF HOLY THURSDAY AND THE LAST SUPPER AND THROUGH THE CROSS ON GOOD FRIDAY, TO THE TUNE ON HOLY SATURDAY, AND ULTIMATELY TO THE RESURRECTION ON SUNDAY.

AND THE QUEEN SAID SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL.

SHE SPOKE ABOUT THIS MOMENT OF SUFFERING AND HOW IT SEEMS TO ECLIPSE OUR ABILITY TO SEE, BUT WE KNOW THERE'S A TOMORROW, THAT'S HOUR THAT'S OUR HOPE.

THERE WILL BE A HOPE FOR TOMORROW FOR THOSE WHO HAVE DIED AND A TOMORROW FOR THOSE WHO HAVE LOST SOMEBODY.

MONSIGNOR HOW DO YOU HOPE THIS EXPERIENCE WILL TRANSFORM ALL OF US ONCE THIS VIRUS IS DEFEATED, SPIRITUALLY?

THIS HAS BEEN A SPIRITUAL FAST, FOR PRIEST AND PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE, THEY CAN'T COME TO MASS, AND MAYBE WE CAN TAKE THE UECHRIST AND OUR CELEBRATION FOR IT FOR GRANTED.

ONLY WHEN IT'S WITHDRAWN DO WE KNOW HOW IMPORTANT IT IS IN OUR LIFE.

WHEN SOMEONE DIES AND WE CAN'T GO TO A FUNERAL.

WHEN A MARRIAGE IS POSTPONED.

WHEN BABIES ARE TO BE BAPTIZED AND ARE NOT.

ONLY NOW DO WE RECOGNIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS MOMENT IN OUR LIFE.

SO HOPEFULLY THIS FAST CAN CONCENTRATE OUR ENERGY TO KNOW WHAT IT IS THAT GOD HAS GIVEN US, THE BEAUTY OF WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN US AND PERHAPS WE CAN LIVE FOR ME I CAN TELL YOU AND I KNOW FOR EVERY PRIEST WHO IS CELEBRATING EACH DAY, WE CELEBRATE BY OURSELVES.

YOU KNOW, YOU RECOGNIZE HOW WE ARE SUSTAINED BY THE CONGREGATION IN FRONT OF US.

THE PRAYERS OF THOSE WHO COME TO MASS WHO ARE PRAYING WITH US, THEY SUSTAIN US.

IN SOME SENSE THAT'S LACKING WHEN YOU LOOK OUT IN AN EMPTY CHURCH BUT IF WE USE OUR IMAGINATION AND KNOW TRULY THE ANGELS, THE SAINTS, THE WHOLE COMMUNION OF THE CHURCH IS PRESENT WHEN WE CELEBRATE THE UCHRIS T BECAUSE THAT'S A MOMENT WE'RE ON CALVARY WITH OUR LORD.

I'M REMINDED OF THIS IN THIS MOMENT.

ALL RIGHT, FATHER, WE'LL HAVE TO END IT THERE.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

IT'S BECOME A PLEASURE YOUR TO TALK TO YOU.

THANKS AND HAPPY EASTER.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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