By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Like many people, news of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting lifestyle changes, made Meliza Wise anxious. “Being told to work remotely, being concerned about my parents in the Philippines and the global news about the virus — I needed prayer and community,” said Wise, a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville.
She reached out to fellow members of the Fatima 100 Iowa City Facebook group, which formed in 2017 to celebrate the Fatima centennial anniversary, and proposed a nine-day rosary novena over Zoom, an online video conferencing service. The novena began with six households on March 17 and members spread the word on social media. By the ninth night, the number of participating households had nearly tripled. “Then, we figured, we needed to keep going,” Wise said.
Since the novena ended, the group has prayed Stations of the Cross and a nine-night Divine Mercy Chaplet. Regular participants include members of five parishes and the Newman Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa. Each night, Wise takes a screenshot of the group and posts it on Facebook.
The experience is interactive; although Wise leads, members offer petitions and lead or respond to a segment of the prayer.
Wise said she looks forward to the 30-minute prayers and community every day. “They helped me find calm and surrender, definitely making this Lent more meaningful. Hearing the different voices echo the same prayer and plea for Mary’s intercession and God’s Divine Mercy is very special and uplifting. Prayer is definitely a spiritual weapon!”
The prayer group has helped its participants cope with the pandemic and social distancing challenges, as well. Patty Erusha, a member of St. Mary Parish in Solon, describes the group as beautiful and said it has kept her praying in a time that she’s “tempted to waste a lot of time on social media. I know my focus needs to be on Jesus. This prayer group helps me accomplish that goal…. I can connect with God when I get together with these people. I receive graces of calm, and that is huge right now.”
For Sue Waterman of the Coralville parish, the Zoom group feels like a continuation of the parish’s weekly rosary group, which cannot meet in person at this time. “I feel more connected with my church community praying every day. There is so much to pray for in our world, and we do that every day as best we can.”
Mark and Rosemary Fiagle of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City appreciate the opportunity to virtually gather in community. Mark said the group “has been such a blessing for me during these anxiety-laden times we are living in.”
Laurie Harris, business manager of the Newman Center, participates with her husband and children. She sees it as a reminder that “we are part of a bigger faith family. Entrusting our prayers to Jesus, through our heavenly mother, has strengthened our family and given us a more calm and peaceful spirit.”
Veve Nduhirahe thinks it is ironic that the community would never have formed if not for social-distancing measures. “We are privileged and sustained by the divine mercy to be so close spiritually, seeing each other on the screen and sharing (precious) moments in prayer.”