By Emily Drooby
Inside St. Patrick’s Church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, long-time parishioner Shirley Berkowitz prayed.
The act is not foreign, she’s been a member of the parish for over 30 years, but because of the pandemic the churches have been closed since March. She was one of the first people let back in as the Diocese of Brooklyn began phase one of its reopening plan on May 26.
“When I first walked in it was overwhelming, the bigness of it and to see the altar,” she said. “When the church opened, it drew me to come, and now I feel what I used to feel and it is wonderful.”
Clergy said they were thrilled to reopen, but also cautious.
“It’s nice to be able to welcome people back into our church to pray,” explained Father Michael Falce, the parochial vicar at St Patrick’s. Adding, “We have been explaining to them that their safety is our priority. So, we have to go slowly and follow the directives of the diocese as well as the government as well.”
Safety measures at St. Patrick’s Church included only using one entrance, seating parishioners far apart, limiting the amount of people inside, and mandating masks.
Not all churches opened on Tuesday — over 30 in the Brooklyn Diocese decided to hold off. Many have cited an inability to get enough personal protective gear or volunteers gathered to safety open. It is being estimated that all churches will be open by the first week of June.
Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Jamaica, Queens also opened its doors on May 26 for the first time in months.
Parishioners like Angel Lucero were happy to have a chance to pray in the church. Through parochial vicar Father Víctor Bolaños, Lucero, who only speaks Spanish, said he needed to thank God after recovering from the coronavirus.
Not all were there to pray. Some, like Aude Pierre only dropped by to give her tithe.
“Because I’m a Catholic, I have to give my 10 percent,” she said. “When you get something from God, you have to give something back to the Church.”
Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary also had strict safety procedures in place. Volunteers wore full safety gear, and helped limit the amount of people inside the church. Pews were also sectioned off.
“If we do it well, in an organized way, we can give them back what they need, what we all need,” explained Fr. Víctor while speaking about people’s great need and desire to get back into church.