SUNSET PARK — At one Chinese parish in the Diocese of Brooklyn, the start of Lent came with a message of hope amid concerns about the coronavirus.
“At a time of great concern over the coronavirus, I thought it would be good to support our Chinese community and to offer prayer and solidarity as we begin the Holy Season of Lent,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said in a statement that was released on Feb. 25, the day before Ash Wednesday, when he celebrated Mass and distributed ashes at St. Agatha Parish in Sunset Park.
Earlier this week, government health officials warned about the likelihood of coronavirus, or COVID-19, spreading in the U.S. As of Feb. 26, the virus has killed more than 2,700 people, most of them in China.
During his homily at St. Agatha’s, Bishop DiMarzio read from a pastoral letter he wrote in light of the worldwide epidemic. In the letter, Bishop DiMarzio encouraged hope and expressed the urgency of conversion during Lent, a time of reflection and repentance in preparation for Easter. Overcoming evil in the world, including deadly viruses, is an invitation to dialogue with God, he said.
Parishioners received a copy of Bishop DiMarzio’s letter in Mandarin.
Bishop DiMarzio told The Tablet that he came to the parish in solidarity with Chinese immigrants and their families, especially as the community faces xenophobic attacks in New York and around the world because of the coronavirus, which originated in the Hubei province in central China.
“It’s a time people need comfort, hope and encouragement,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “On Ash Wednesday, we say, ‘Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’
“We face the prospect of death itself … Ash Wednesday is a good time to take stock and see where we’re going, especially in the journey towards Easter,” he said. “We don’t dwell on death as an end, but as the beginning of new life. So we pray for those affected by this coronavirus, especially for countries in disarray that don’t know what to do. This is a time we need to pray, to be calm and to do the right thing.”
Father Vincentius T. Do, the pastor of St. Agatha’s, and Fathers Shengjiao Lin C.M., and Juan Angel Pichardo, both parochial vicars at the parish, concelebrated the Mass.
Father Do said parishioners are concerned about the coronavirus, but continue to be faithful, attending daily Mass and Holy Hour and reciting the rosary to pray for a cure.
“As soon as we heard the news, our parishioners have been in constant contact with their family members in China, and we are very much aware of the danger of spreading the virus; [we’re] taking all the precautions,” Father Do said. “It’s not just a Chinese crisis, it’s a human crisis. Just like the flu, as long as we are careful, we can overcome it. At the same time, we are telling people to be careful, but [we] don’t want people to be panicky. We turn to prayer, put our trust and faith in God and hope that everything will be okay in the end.”
Lizhen Zheng, a parishioner, said she’s encouraged by Bishop DiMarzio’s message of fasting and prayer during Lent.
“We are very prayerful, and I know God hears our prayers,” Zheng said.