From the Editor: How the Catholic Church found new ways to celebrate Easter during COVID-19

The Latino community in Surrey hosts a drive-in and keeps community members engaged

Priest holding the bible as Deacon carries the Paschal candle in the Our Lady of Good Counsel church parking lot. (Nicole Gonzalez Filos)

Just days before Easter week, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a “circuit breaker,” pausing indoor dining, fitness, and indoor religious gatherings.

However, the Catholic Church got creative for the Holy Week and the Latino community from Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Surrey hosted a drive-in for Good Friday and Resurrection Day. It took place in the parish parking lot, where attendees stayed in their vehicles as the priest hosted the ceremony from an altar made by community members.

Through the event, my parents and I were inside our Nissan X-Trail. It felt distant yet close as we were encouraged to listen to the ceremony through an FM radio signal.

“The difficulty was that we were given permission, just a little over a week ago, to have indoor masses. But then suddenly, the rules got changed and [we] had to be outdoors again,” says Angela Moloney, a Carmelite sister who learned Spanish in the convent and has been serving the Latino community for 20 years.

“So, this was like rearranging things on such short notice,”

Even with the short notice, our community did a great job of stepping up to arrange the drive-in while staying safe.

Resurrection Day mass began with a bonfire for the Paschal candle, which is used in Easter and on special occasions throughout the year. The candle represents the light of Jesus Christ’s resurrection overcoming the darkness of the tomb. It was lit from the bonfire, and both the bonfire and candle stayed lit through the end of the ceremony.

In the past, the Latino community would have a play of the Passion of Christ for Good Friday.

This is a recurring play, which my family and I attended every year. This is a chance for community members to interact with one another through play practices and through the event itself.

However, even with the drive-in, many community members took roles such as parking lot attendants, musicians, and photographers. Attendees honked, flashed their car lights on and off, and some used the flashlights on their phones to show their excitement.

One of the reasons why the drive-in is a better option than in-person is that there is a limit of 50 cars, and all family members in one social bubble can participate while in one car.

“I think, in a way, the drive-in masses are a bit better than the limited numbers in the church because you could have more people,” says Moloney.

In terms of community engagement during COVID-19, Moloney, who spends most of her time in Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Vancouver, says that they have been live streaming mass every day in languages like Spanish, English, and Italian.

Community members from Surrey and Vancouver were also holding food drives for people who have been affected by the pandemic.

“I think that COVID has struck the Latino communities stronger because there have been a lot of COVID deaths in some countries, especially in Mexico. So, we’ve also been doing a lot of counselling,” Maloney says.

“There’s been a lot of the men who have gotten COVID, [who have] actually have been sick, then a lot of family members who have died.”

“Church is important. The Eucharist is the centre of our faith. But it has to spill over in caring for people, and a lot of people are suffering. Maybe in Canada, I think we have not suffered quite as much as some other countries. But somehow, with the Latino community, we’re connected to these other people,” Moloney says.

When someone from the community finds out that one of their family members has passed away, we all mourn. This is because we know the difficulty of having family outside the country and not being able to see them in-person, especially during the pandemic. Even though we all come from different countries, being part of Latin America and speaking the same language is something that connects us.

“It’s cruel. It’s very cruel by now,” says Moloney. “I know several people who have died here in Canada, too. And, you know, usually they don’t let the family be [at the funeral]. Sometimes they do, but usually, they don’t. So, it’s hard.”

After the COVID-19 restrictions end, she says she is looking forward to meeting new attendees and hosting baptisms.

“I think, at least in our community, we don’t have adult baptisms this year. Usually, we do, but we don’t this year, but that’s something I really missed too.”