Pandemic leads multicultural parish in Israel to unite in faith

Friday, Nov. 20, 2020
By Catholic News Service

JAFFA, Israel  — On the Friday before All Saints’ Day, some of  the Arabic members of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Jaffa drove to the parish cemetery to celebrate Mass in a recently donated open-air chapel.

Then some stayed on to complete the tidying of the cemetery yard in preparation for the holy day.

It was a sign of community service and united prayer that has emerged under the coronavirus pandemic in the Franciscan-run parish made up of local Arabs, migrant workers mainly from the Philippines and India and refugees largely from Africa, said Franciscan Father Augustin Pelayo, pastor.

While the Arabic community, which is more mobile, took care of the cemetery, the migrants and refugees planned to clean the neo-Gothic style church interior following a recent restoration that included repainting the ceiling. However, the effort was postponed because of concerns about spreading the coronoavirus. They plan to try again later.

The entire parish contributed toward the repainting, each member giving according to their ability, said Father Pelayo, who is from Mexico.

He told Catholic News Service that each community, while bringing different languages to worship, has “through the Holy Spirit ... become one.”

Such a united effort has benefited the community, even under the constraints of the pandemic, said Magina Zipagan, 52, a Filipino and parish liturgical leader.

“We are very close to each other now, we are very united to each other. We see with our own eyes where our donations are going,” Zipagan said. “I am very happy that I connected with all, not only to the Filipino community but also to the African community, the Indian community, the Arab community. We are doubling our efforts.”

At a time when worshipping together has been difficult because of the pandemic, parishioners have found ways to help each other as well as the wider community. Some donated money. Others volunteered their time and skills. Many members prayed the rosary for protection against the coronavirus.

And the family of an 88-year-old parishioner donated the open-air chapel in his memory after his death in July.

As the lockdown took hold at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in March, Fr. Pelayo said he was able to reach parishioners by leaving consecrated holy Communion wafers in an envelope at their door. Parishioners were asked to place any remaining crumbs in the envelope and burn it after taking Communion.

Parishioners at times also have been able, with prior coordination with the police and while social distancing, to participate in Mass in the parish’s large garden. Members of Melkite and Greek Orthodox churches have participated in the liturgies as well because of limited space in their churches, the priest said.

Though some of the Arabic parishioners caught the COVID-19 virus, they have since recovered. The migrants and refugees have remained virus-free.

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