WOONSOCKET — The coronavirus pandemic forced the temporary closing of their places of worship to keep the faithful safe, but local spiritual leaders rose above that barrier Tuesday to voice prayer over the city from atop the Cornerstone Building.
In all nine pastors and congregation leaders made a journey up the stairs of the 10-story Social Flatlands commercial building to raise their voices in praise of God and prayers for the safety of local residents and their front line protectors in the crisis.
The highpoint prayer service was thought of by Bishop Herson Gonzalez of Vida Church, 120 Prospect St., and carried out with the help of Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, Cornerstone’s owner John Boucher, and the assembled priests, pastors and faith leaders climbing to the sun-drenched roof.
All wore facemasks while make the climb up 10 flights of stairs and maintained safe social distancing as required under state protocols while spreading out to various overlooks on the city.
“We are going up for prayer and I am going to be appealing to the Chief Cornerstone, that is another name for Jesus, and just making an appeal for healing,” said the Rev. Jeffrey C. Thomas of the St. James Baptist Church at 340 South Main St.
“Prayer always goes well,” Thomas noted and said he looks forward to putting up a video of the service on his church’s website.
The Rev. John Kiley, a retired Catholic priest who helps out with services at St. James Church in Manville and Saint Ambrose in Albion, wore his vestments for Mass while he offered prayers from the roof. The Rev. David Marquard, pastor of Praise Tabernacle North, North Smithfield, brought his strong voice to the rooftop to offer a prayer through the steady wind of the morning.
Like his peers, Kiley has been offering his parishioners services with the help of Facebook and other social media platforms and has gained acknowledgment that it does help people during their time of crisis.
“The faithful are in need and God will see us through it. He is still there,” Rev. Kiley said.
Even with the shutdown and the change to distanced services, Rev. Kiley said he still gets about 50 people joining him when he does do a Mass online.
“That has been helpful,” he said while noting he too gains much from the observances of faith.
The Rev. Henryk Wos, pastor of Our Saviour Parish of the Polish National Catholic Church at 500 Smithfield Road, said he was more than happy to join the service and “offer a prayer for our city during this difficult time.”
His prayer would be for “our city leaders, for the people who are the front lines, for the regular people, definitely, and for all of those who are affected by the coronavirus,” Rev. Wos said.
Wos’s parish was founded in the city back in 1924 and went through its own crisis when its original church on Arnold Street was destroyed by fire in 1962. The congregation came together at that time and built its current home at 500 Smithfield Road in just a year and half, Rev. Wos noted.
The current crisis is a new challenge to be overcome, Rev. Wos said.
“For us, the priests, it is really complicated and unusual. We say Masses with no responses from the parishioners,” he explained. The services are carried to people via Facebook and Rev. Wos said his are available from his church every Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
“So this is what we have, we have Zoom, and in this we are communicating with each other,” Rev. Wos said.
Tuesday’s prayer service, put together for the upcoming National Day of Prayer, was also going out via online websites or through the phones the faith leaders brought with them to record a special prayer that could be watched by their congregations.
The Rev. Wilfred Gregoire, a retired priest living at St. Agatha’s Parish where he helps out with services, brought along a prayer to fight illness that was given in French.
“O Divin Medecin, toi qui as toujours aime consoler et guerir les malades de corps et d’esprit, accorde-moi la patience d’endurer mes souffances. Par ta Puissance, soulage l’acuite de ma douleur et de ma fatigue, mais surtout, doux Jesus, gueris les plaies de mon ame. Bein qu’il me soit difficile de prier, je dirai a jamais: Que ta volonte soit faite,” Rev. Gregoire said while reading his prayer.
“It is a prayer for the relief from sickness and a prayer to surrender to God,” Rev. Gregoire said.
The Rev. Axel Ramos, pastor of the Ministry to Grow on Arnold Street, was among the clergy members broadcasting their prayers to their congregation by phone and voiced appreciation to the organizers for the opportunity to reach out in that way.
“It’s beautiful here. I think this is what we need to do as leaders of the religious community, this is going to make a big impact on members of the community,” Rev. Ramos said.
“I said a prayer of healing for our city and it couldn’t have been from a better place. You could see everything, the hospital, the nursing homes, the residences and the businesses,” Rev. Ramos said.
“Our businesses are really struggling and I’m praying that they will be able to come back,” Rev. Ramos added.
Pastor Rah’d Letang of Woonsocket, a member of Holy Ground Ministries in Providence, said the service couldn’t have come at a better time for people of faith.
“It was an opportunity for people to get together and unite us all for some good to come out of this pandemic,” Rev. Letang said.
The Rev. Dan Sweet, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish at Park Square, included thoughts of keeping everyone safe in his prayer over the crisis.
“Help us with our social distancing and to draw together in communion with one another,” Rev. Sweet said. “And help our minds and our hearts to be united in care for the most vulnerable among us, especially the elderly who are so vulnerable to this virus.
“Help us to see that all of our sacrifices are in care and an act of love for them. Help us to respect our leaders and to obey those directives directed to the public health,” Rev. Sweet said.
As the service wrapped up, Bishop Gonzalez said it was consistent with praying throughout the country.
“Praying here, we atop this beautiful building, are praying to the Lord from the air supremacy if you will, for getting over the virus, getting over everything, and casting out blessings and declaring a love of the Lord, the favor of Lord, the grace of God for all the people of Woonsocket, our state, our country and even the world,” Bishop Gonzalez said.
“So thank you so much, this means a lot to me personally, and I think that everybody watching is going to be inspired by what we are doing today,” Bishop Gonzalez said.
Bishop Gonzalez also thanked Baldelli-Hunt for answering his call to hold the service and noted her answer was just “yes, let’s do it,” before setting out to make it happen.
Baldelli-Hunt explained that when Bishop Gonzalez reached out to her “as he so often does he had a wonderful idea, as do the other faith leaders in the city of Woonsocket.
“Everyone is always thinking of ways that we can bring our community together. And Bishop asked if it would be possible to stand atop the roof of the highest building in the city of Woonsocket so we could all come together and bless our city,” she said.
Baldelli-Hunt said she in turned called John Boucher, the owner of Cornerstone and “without skipping a beat, he immediately agreed to allow us to come up here today and to pray and to bless our city,” Baldelli-Hunt said.
“And I want to thank John for his willingness to allow us to impose on his roof in this way but again this is what our community is made of. It is made of people who are always willing to come out and to care and to do whatever needs to happen to bring us together and make for a better city and a better life for all of us,” Baldelli-Hunt said.
She also thanked the clergy participating.
“I feel so fortunate that we have faith leaders here from so many denominations within Woonsocket who are always working to better the community and to help so many people that are in so much need at times,” she said.
Follow Joseph Nadeau on Twitter @JNad75