BROWNSVILLE — Father Joshua Carlos of Holy Family Church wasn't going to let a little thing like a pandemic lockdown prevent him from his tending his flock.
With his parishioners temporarily unable to come to church in person because of official restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus, Carlos went to them, before and after Holy Week grabbing his walking stick and peregrinating through the neighborhoods of the parish he administers to bestow blessings and see how folks were doing.
"I had heard other priests taking the sacrament out to the street," he told The Brownsville Herald. "I wanted to do something similar, but I wanted a little more freedom to interact with the people."
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With the consecrated Eucharist in a pyx worn close to his heart, Carlos — known as "Father Josh" to many of his parishioners — carried a cross with him the first time, blessing the faithful curbside. The second go-around he left the cross behind, instead performing blessings of Holy Water and religious articles put out by families, while wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.
"Typically around this time they're usually bringing a lot of things, or they would be receiving water during Easter," he said. "They can't get it right now, so instead of having them come and put themselves in danger, I decided to go to them and at the same time get a chance to see how they're doing. That was kind of the idea, to bring the Lord to them, also to kind of give them some words of encouragement and hope."
Those words included "peace be with you," the same words Jesus used to greet his disciples following the resurrection, according to the Bible. Carlos reminded those he visited that "it's almost over and it's going to be OK." He was well received for the most part and garnered positive feedback for his messages of encouragement, he said.
"I decided, well, let me just take the Lord on my person and walk through the different streets of my parish territory," Carlos said. "I've never done that before."
He announced on social media beforehand what parts of the parish he would be walking on a given day, though Carlos admitted the second time was more organized than the first time.
"The first time around it was much more like, where am I, what am I doing, how do I get back? We were more confident this last time, so it was great," he said.
Also, Carlos and his assistant brought bells with them on the second outing, which tended to bring everybody out of their houses, members of the church and otherwise, though plenty of parishioners. Holy Family Church has a congregation of roughly 350, made up mostly of older people and low-income, working families.
"A lot of them I don't know personally, and it was a beautiful way to get to know some of the members of the local community and remind them that we're around," Carlos said. "It was a good way of evangelizing and letting people know we're here, and that if they need anything let us know."
Carlos said hiking the streets with his walking stick, going door to door with messages of peace, made him feel a bit like an apostle -- despite the tennis shoes. He confessed that he's drawn to some of the church's older traditions.
"I'm interested in taking some of the things from the past, because there are a lot of blessings that they used to have in the old days," Carlos said. "I'd like to take those and bring them into now to kind of re-enliven that sense of culture and faith in the life of the church."
He said the lockdown has prompted him to reach out to parishioners in ways he formerly only entertained in his head, and said situations of adversity always present spiritual benefits if they can be recognized and seized upon.
"It was a blessing not just for them but for me because, us priests, we're used to being around so many people every Sunday, every day actually, and it's been kind of quiet," Carlos said. "It was like an eye-opener to me that they haven't lost faith, not completely. Yeah, there are moments that they feel all alone, feel abandoned. But still they're praying and their excited about their faith. And this really energizes them about their faith. It was a blessing for me to see that."
He said he'd like to continue taking it to the streets, though he's waiting to hear what the bishop says about the process of reopening the church. It will be a little harder when people start coming back to church and his schedule fills up again, Carlos said.
"I want to do it maybe once a week or once a month or something, just to go and see, especially, the people who are still afraid to come back, especially the elderly," he said. "I have to think about those who are not ready yet, try and go meet with them."