By Carolina Scipioni

Like many other Parishes in our Dioceses, Saint Thomas Aquinas, has had to adapt to a new reality after public Masses were suspended. Live streaming became the way to bring Mass to parishioners and share in spiritual communion with them. Sometimes, the pastor, Father Stasys Mikalonis, would say Mass and other times it would be one of the other priests. One Sunday, it was Father Stasys’ turn to be behind the camera helping with the livestreaming when he noticed something that touched his heart. People were commenting and making the appropriate responses during Mass, and they wanted to sing. It was at that moment that it dawned on him: his parishioners didn’t want to just “watch” the Mass, they wanted to “fully participate.” He was touched.

With Holy Week fast approaching and the realization that the shelter at home order would not be lifted in time, Father Stasys wanted to provide his parishioners a way to “fully participate” from home in one of the holiest celebrations of the year. It was then that he thought of the Easter Candle – the candle representing Christ himself and the new fire symbolizing our eternal life in Him. He invited each parishioner to decorate their own Easter candle to welcome Christ into their homes. The response was incredible. Many parishioners shared pictures of their creations, saying that decorating the candles helped them prepare for the joy of Easter Sunday.

Father Stasys was grateful for the community’s response and, on Easter Sunday, he wrote to them saying: “Thank you for sharing pictures of your Easter Candles with me. I loved each one of them.” He also asked everyone to look forward to the next time that they could gather again as a community by adding, “Please remember to bring them with you to the first Mass when we can get together again!”

Parishioners throughout our Diocese shared how much they missed going to Church, especially during Holy Week. It also has been heart-breaking for our priests and parish staff to celebrate Masses in empty churches. But we keep up the little but important things that keep us together and faithful during these difficult times. It might be a livestream Mass, a virtual retreat, a phone call to minister to someone in need, a church parking lot opened for food distribution, a zoom call to pray the Rosary, or an invitation to make an Easter candle to bring the light of Christ into our homes.

Let HOPE be what defines us during this challenging times! A sense of hope that was also shared by Father Stasys in his closing remarks: “Thank you for joining today’s Mass. I miss you all and send you a HUGE hug that I’m hoping I may be able to share with you in real life… soon. We are stronger than EVER, Christ is risen! Happy Easter! ¡Muy feliz Pascua a todos!”