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 | Rev. George Aranha, pastor at Santa Teresa Parish, San Jose

Excerpt from Pandemic Priest

Lifting Hearts in Covid Times

Sounds rather ominous to call my current Santa Teresa Church and Community in San Jose, California, a pandemic parish! It might imply that parishioners of Santa Teresa were infected by COVID-19. That is not the case. Rather, I want to share how our entire parish rallied together to face the pandemic and not be subdued or defeated by the virus. After all, we have all been confronted by an invisible enemy, that has caused so much chaos, infections, and deaths all over the world.

All our pandemic efforts at Santa Teresa reached a climax on December 20, 2020, when we gathered in the parking lot to celebrate Christmas in Santa Teresa (normally this celebration would take place inside the church). Our advent plans for 2020 were based on the words of Jesus, who said: “You are the Light of the World”. Each week of Advent we asked ourselves how can we share the light of hope, love, joy, and peace with others who are experiencing the darkness of the pandemic?

Aware that about 40% of our parishioners do not have access to computers and therefore do not get our regular electronic bulletins, we have done regular mailings to all our parishioners, so that everybody is informed about our activities and everybody is informed about our activities and everybody knows that in these times of lockdowns the parish cares.

We gave our parishioners an Advent booklet with daily reflections and prayers, called ‘A World Full of Promise’. Since indoor gatherings were not permitted, we put Christmas lights on the facades of the Church and Avila Hall and on the trees in May’s Garden. From December 16th to the 24th we came together in Mary’s Garden to pray the Christmas Novena.

The Giving Trees with other Christmas trees were set up outside the church and in Mary’s Garden, with the names of all our loved ones who have died and yet are always with us and close to us. We constantly miss our loved ones who have died, but even more so during the Christmas holidays.

We focused on Giving Tuesday, worked with Catholic Charities to be a food distribution location for hundreds of families, and offered links in the e-bulletin for outreach ideas, especially ways to help families of farm-workers.

We created luminaria bags for families to decorate and thus we lit up the parking the best we could to celebrate Christmas at Santa Teresa in our cars. We created a Christmas video with pictures sent to us by our parishioners and I was honored to sing the beautiful song: Go Light Your World.

December 20, 2020 was also my 45th anniversary of priesthood. After I lead our parishioners in popular Christmas Carols and Christmas songs, I was told that there was going to be a prayer to conclude the celebration. Americans love surprises and love to surprise others. I was deeply touched and surprised because it was a prayer in celebration of my ministry to God’s people as a priest. I was then asked to open my anniversary present, which was a beautiful white vestment with gold embroidery. And then the honking began and carried on for quite a while like a loud, joyful, standing ovation.

I have said this on several occasions, but I felt it very strongly that night as I greeted each family driving by in the cares, receiving their warm wish and thoughtful, generous cards and gifts: “I LOVE BEING A PRIEST!”

If you are interested in having your own copy of ‘Pandemic Priest’ please contact Santa Teresa Parish at 408-629-7777. You can either pick up your copy or we can mail it to you.