GREENPOINT — The lights finally came back on at the San Damiano Mission Catholic Church after nearly nine months when the pandemic began. Parishioners were welcomed back with masked smiles and open arms as Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio celebrated the reopening Mass, which took place on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, Dec. 8.
The San Damiano Mission was first established in February 2015 as an evangelizing anchor in the “hipster” Williamsburg/Greenpoint area. The mission calls back to Pope Francis’ message — to help those who might feel abandoned, alone, or disenfranchised by the church.
The Greenpoint church hadn’t been open since mid-March when the pandemic struck. It was also around the same time when an interim pastor led the Masses and other services, taking over from the Conventual Franciscan friars who had been in charge until the fall of 2019. The new, incoming group of missionaries from the Shalom Catholic Community were supposed to arrive in time for Easter but couldn’t land in New York due to lockdowns and visa delays.
Father Cristiano Pinheiro, the mission’s new administrator, said he and the three other lay missionaries in residence settled into their Brooklyn home about two months ago. In Father Pinheiro’s case, he was stuck in Rome — where he lived for the past 12 years — from March until September due to the pandemic. Before finally arriving in the United States, he went back to his home country of Brazil for 10 days and later quarantined in Mexico for two weeks.
During that time, the other lay missionaries — Allan Robinson, Wendy Ramírez, and Justine Lafferrière — lived in a Boston missionary house until Father Pinheiro could arrive. The last missionary member of the group, Barbara Freitas, is still in Brazil waiting for her visa.
Though they had to wait many months for the official reopening patiently, Father Pinheiro said he and the others are excited to start their new evangelization mission in the diocese.
“We want to build a bridge between the people and the church. We’ll be reaching out mostly to young adults, but also to all those who want to find a home here in Brooklyn through a house of prayer, a place where they can worship the Lord,” Father Pinheiro told The Tablet a few hours before the Mass took place.
“Reopening today, after more than eight months, is very meaningful. We want to continue to be a welcoming home where people can experience the Holy Spirit and have personal encounters with Jesus Christ.”
The San Damiano Mission will have daily Masses, in addition to adoration to the Blessed Sacrament and confessions four days a week. Previously, the Conventual Franciscan friars held concerts and cookouts to connect with residents. Due to the ongoing pandemic, Father Pinheiro said he and his team plan to adapt and implement new ideas while meeting the health and safety guidelines. They hope to host praise and worship nights and organize prayer groups for parishioners and newcomers so that they may deepen their knowledge of the Word of God.
During his homily, Bishop DiMarzio spoke directly to the parishioners, who safely filled the church according to current health and safety guidelines. The bishop asked them to help Father Pinheiro and the missionaries during their time here.
“Help them so that they may succeed and do what God wants them to do during this time, in this place,” Bishop DiMarzio said before turning to the altar to celebrate the Eucharist. “This is what the community lives by — the Eucharist that feeds us, challenges us at times, and helps us understand God’s story. It’s a story of love, a story that leads us back to God.”
Though Father Pinheiro acknowledges that the first few months may be tough, he is excited to work with his team and the surrounding community.
“This is my new Rome, my new home,” he added. “I feel honored to have been sent to this great city and to bear witness to Jesus, who’s the center of my life and to whom I offer my life.”
For more information or to make confession appointments, call 347-916-1402 between 11 a.m and 4 p.m.