By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CORALVILLE — Protective facemasks couldn’t hide the smiling eyes of Catholics assembled to pray a living rosary in the parking lot of St. Thomas More Parish on May 31 after more than 70 nights of praying together online.
“There’s a joy you can see in their eyes,” said Jackie Russ, a member of the Coralville parish who recorded the living rosary on her phone and broadcast it live on Facebook. “You can tell they’re smiling.”
Since mid-March, Catholics from the Iowa City-area and beyond have been praying the rosary and other prayers at 6 p.m. daily on Zoom. The tradition has helped them connect with others, make new friends and maintain a sense of hope during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No matter how much the coronavirus has stripped from the world, the Holy Spirit is still alive. Mary is still beside us,” said Veve Nduhirahe, a member of the Coralville parish.
About 25 Catholics — many dressed in Pentecost red and all wearing face coverings of different colors and patterns — took their places next to candles spread at least six feet apart during the living rosary. The candles represented the prayers of the rosary. Organizer Meliza Wise asked prayer participants to sign up for a spot prior to the event, which received the blessing of the pastor, Father Chuck Adam. The gathering took place the evening before the parish opened its doors for private prayer for the first time in more than two months.
Many prayer participants had never seen each other in person prior to praying outside St. Thomas More. “I’d never met about half of them,” said Mark Fiagle, a member of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City who participated in the prayer group with his wife Rosemary. “It was nice to meet them at last.” He said he didn’t pray the rosary much prior to joining the prayer group, which has “meant the world to me. I looked forward to 6 p.m. each night.”
“I know their voices better than their faces,” said Laura Aschenbrenner, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. “It’s been comforting to hear their voices.”
Because the outdoor rosary took place on Pentecost Sunday, the group prayed the Glorious Mysteries. Several prayer participants commented about how nice it was to be able to hear voices rise in unison during the response portions of the rosary prayers; Wise said she had to mute non-leaders during Zoom sessions due to the limitations of the medium.
Now that parishes are open for private prayer, the group will no longer meet online. However, Wise hopes the community will remain in contact and that their devotion to the rosary will continue. “Maybe we will keep praying outside.”