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'Hope' on display during first public Detroit Mass since stay-at-home order

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit —  The Rev. Mario Amore said he was downtown Tuesday and spotted a city bus with a single word flashing on its marquee: Hope.

"That's what set me in motion for today," Amore said a few hours later as he celebrated Mass in front of his congregation at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in downtown Detroit for the first time in two months.

Amore said the bus sign was symbolic "of the hope we have, knowing the Lord is with us, even when we're separated from each other ... it's with great joy that we're able to come together again."

About two dozen worshipers, clad in masks and observing social distancing, attended Tuesday's service, after the Archdiocese of Detroit announced last week it planned to resume public Masses.

Father Mario Amore holds up the host during consecration. 
Approximately 35 worshippers attend one of the first public daily masses at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in downtown Detroit, Tuesday afternoon, May 19, 2020, since the state lockdown from COVID-19.

All Detroit archdiocesan parishes are scheduled to resume public Masses by May 29, officials said, making the region's Catholic churches the latest gathering spots to reopen after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer imposed a stay-at-home order March 23.

"In recent weeks, we have watched with relief as our State of Michigan gradually opened to select businesses and activities, with prudent precautions firmly in place to prevent a severe 'second wave' of the coronavirus pandemic," Archbishop Allen Vigneron, who leads the Detroit archdiocese, wrote in a May 12 letter to congregants.

"In keeping with this gradual reopening of our society, it is necessary that we make similar arrangements within our local Church to allow once again for the communal celebration of Holy Mass, which at its core is the most 'essential' activity known to our world," Vigneron wrote. 

Whitmer on Monday gave the go-ahead for restaurants and bars to reopen in the Upper Peninsula and 17 northern Michigan counties. Restaurants and bars may open at 50% capacity with safety protocols in place, while retail outlets under 50,000 square feet may open at 25% capacity, if safety protocols are observed.

Social gatherings of up to 10 people also are allowed in the state's northern region, the governor said.

While the rest of Michigan remains under a stay-at-home order, Whitmer said Monday some of the restrictions could be lifted in a few days.

The most important part of the state's reopening process was Tuesday's church service, said Raquel Fournier of St. Clair Shores.

"This is the thing I wanted the most — to come back to Mass," she said. "Of course, I missed not seeing people in my family, but this is what I wanted the most. I am at peace right now — this restored a sense of normalcy."

There were a few breaks from routine Tuesday. Per the Archdiocese of Detroit's directives for reopening, which aim to prevent the virus from spreading, congregants did not drink wine during Holy Communion.

Signs were posted throughout St. Aloysius indicating every other pew was closed, while bottles of hand sanitizer were available. A marker on the floor reminded parishioners who received Communion to stay six feet away from the person in front of them. There was no music during the Mass, and no one passed around the collection basket.

Andrea Rossi, of Farmington Hills, prays before communion. Approximately 35 worshippers attend one of the first public daily masses at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in downtown Detroit, Tuesday afternoon, May 19, 2020, since the state lockdown from COVID-19, as Father Mario Amore conducts the mass.

One hallmark of Catholic services, parishioners shaking hands with fellow congregants and wishing them peace, has also been suspended during the health emergency. Per the archdiocese's directives, churches are not to exceed 25% of capacity.

"It's going to be an adjustment," Amore told reporters outside his church before Tuesday's Mass.

"Things are going to be a little messy at first, but we want to get together, and we're willing to do whatever we have to do. It's been a rough go for a lot of people," Amore said.

Amore dedicated Tuesday's Mass "to all those suffering from the coronavirus, and we pray for them."

Detroit Archdiocese spokeswoman Michelle St. Pierre said weekday Masses normally aren't as well-attended as those held on Sunday.

"We're expecting people to flock to church on Sunday," she said. "It's been two months, and this is a special occasion."

Andrea Ross of Farmington Hills said she didn't mind the restrictions and changes in the liturgy — "it was just amazing to be at Mass again in real life," she said. "It's just not the same online."

Worshippers social distance during public mass. Approximately 35 worshippers attend one of the first public daily masses at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in downtown Detroit, Tuesday afternoon, May 19, 2020, since the state lockdown from COVID-19, as Father Mario Amore conducts the mass.

Ross, 42, said she missed taking Communion the most, and said she felt fulfilled after receiving the host Tuesday — even without the sacramental wine that believers consider Jesus' blood.

"I'll take whatever I can get," she said. "I understand why they're doing that, and that's an important part of our faith, but to be able to celebrate in God's house is the most important thing for me."

The lack of music in the Mass helped Jerry McElhone of Allen Park concentrate on prayer, he said.

"It allows for a little more focus and reflection on why we're here," he said. "I'll welcome it when we completely get back to normal, but for now, I have a calming, comforting feeling."

Jerry Ashe of West Bloomfield said he thought Tuesday's message of hope was "perfect."

"It was a good thing to hear," said Ashe, 66. "I'm hoping there's a vaccine (for the virus). I'm hoping this, and hoping that.

"I really think we needed to hear that message," Ashe said, "because we all could use a little hope right now."

ghunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN