Courtesy Danielle Romain

Father Jerzy Zasłona, pastor at the Holy Rosary Church in Jersey City, in church filled with photographs of his parishioners.

Read the original story in Polish at Nowy Dziennik
Translated and condensed by Aleksandra Slabisz

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our lives in various ways, including the temporary closures of community churches.

But clergy leaders quickly came up with ways of providing religious services under quarantine, including many Polish parishes in the New York area which are live-streaming daily and Sunday masses via YouTube or Facebook.

“At first a handful of people participated in our virtual masses, but soon the number doubled and now we have 90 to 100 people praying with us,” says father Jerzy Zasłona, pastor of Holy Rosary Church in Jersey City, where masses are stream through Facebook thanks to one of the parishioners, Danielle Romain.

The virtual masses at the Holy Rosary Church in Jersey City are different: The parishioners participate in them not only through their computer screens but also symbolically, via their portrait pictures, which are displayed on the church pews.

“A mass said to the familiar faces feels so much different than one said to a bare camera,” says Zasłona, who adds that the photos allow him to feel a spiritual connection with his parishioners.

The pictures were the idea of Christina Szpala, the parish secretary and the lector. One day she surprised the pastor by putting up photos of the parishioners on the pews before one of his masses.

“She contacted members of our church and also my family asking them to send their photos. This was indeed a great surprise. I was deeply moved and happy to see them,” the pastor said. “I often address the members of our church with hope to see them soon in person when the pandemic is over.”

The pews at the Holy Rosary are still filling up with pictures as parishioners are sending their photos to be able to participate. The church also has a board with pictures of its members or their relatives who have passed away due to COVID-19.

Zasłona is already making preparations at Holy Rosary for when the parishioners will be able to return to church.

“We will need to take all necessary precautions, such as social distancing. So we are marking spaces for individuals and separate pews for families. We are also planning to have a separate mass for seniors, who are in the highest risk group,” he says, adding that the pews will be disinfected after each mass. “I hope we will be able to put this plan into life soon.”