The bell at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral rang minutes before 11 a.m. on Sunday as Easter Mass was about to begin, but this time it was different; for the first time in its lifetime, the church was empty.
Walking toward the church, from the also empty streets of downtown Brownsville, one could not help but imagine how different that moment would have been if it weren’t for the coronavirus that’s changing the way the community lives.
Whole families with children, parents, abuelitas and abuelitos and sometimes all the tías and tíos would join together at the cathedral wearing their Sunday’s best to celebrate — as they would do every year since they can remember— but this time, none of them were in sight.
“This is the day, appointed by the Lord, to receive the news, the announcement that Christ, who was crucified and laid in the tomb, is risen from the dead,” Bishop Daniel Flores said in his homily to the empty crowd. “This announcement strikes the heart of everyone who hears it as an invitation to open up our eyes to a vision of the world renewed; a world where light overcomes the darkness, a world where life overcomes death.”
While the church livestreams its service on several television channels and social media outlets, things do not feel the same for a lot of members. Some said on social media they miss going to the church and admiring the beauty of it, but that they still feel blessed to be able to watch the Mass through Facebook at home, something that would have not been possible years ago.
Even the few people who were part of Mass were all at least 6-feet apart, respecting the social distancing rule that is meant to keep flatten the curve.
“Hello, here we are very strict about maintaining our 6-feet distance,” someone told a Brownsville Herald reporter as they entered the empty church, kindly asking them not to set media equipment too close to the entrance so the Bishop and everyone else who was part of the Mass could walk through the door safely.
During his homily, Bishop Flores acknowledged the changes and said this is something he, nor anyone, could have ever envisioned. He said churches throughout the world are closed for the safety of others.
“But here it is, it’s Easter Sunday and throughout the world Christian churches are announcing that Christ is risen and certainly in our own Rio Grande Valley, so beloved by the Virgin, and throughout the United States, the churches are closed,” he said. “The people, with good reason, all of us are encouraged to stay home and we have many generous civil servants and medical personnel who are required, but very devotedly, and sometimes to the point of exhaustion, giving themselves to the care of others; this is the world we are living in.”