“It’s very hard, because prior to omicron, this fall, the entire church was packed, and I remember one Mass, where the pews were full, and almost 30 people standing,” he said.“I had almost forgotten what it was like, and that is what church is meant to be, filled with families.”
Yet despite the steady stream of disappointments, Dorantes said he feels “privileged” to be one of the priests on a city team anointing COVID patients who are hospitalized.
“All of these nurses and doctors have done their best to save a person, and are putting their own lives at risk, so priests anointing the sick is not heroic stuff, it’s what God has called us to do,” Dorantes said.
The pandemic has also allowed Dorantes’ parish to extend its reach beyond Chicago, with the church’s livestreamed Masses on Facebook and YouTube reaching worshippers across the world.
“I heard from a man in Peru who had just lost his mother to COVID, and their church was closed, and he asked me, ‘can you celebrate the funeral Mass for my mom online?’ And we had the tools, so I said, yes, and we were able to say the funeral Mass for his mother here at our church in Chicago,” Dorantes said.
Still, Dorantes said getting parishioners back into the routine of attending Mass in person remains a challenge.
“We will need a strategic plan, because some people have gotten comfortable sitting on the sofa in their PJs to watch Mass,” Dorantes said.“But the thing is, watching Mass online is kind of like watching ‘MasterChef’ when you want to eat — you’re still hungry when the show is over.”
“At a Catholic church, getting in that line with others for the Eucharist is essential to our spiritual health,” he said. “I pray people will come back to receive Jesus, because boy, does the world need him right now.”
‘The Holy Spirit never goes away’
The increasing secularization in the U.S. plays a role, too, in falling church attendance — and was evident across the world even before the pandemic. A recent Pew Research Center survey of the religious composition nationwide finding the share of the public who identify as religiously unaffiliated is 6 percentage points higher than it was five years ago and 10 points higher than a decade ago.