When people are frightened, they turn to God, but one of the cruelties of this pandemic is that places of worship are closed.
While booze, marijuana and guns are essential services in various parts of the country, spiritual solace has been deemed superfluous.
But the pastor of Hell’s Kitchen, Father George Rutler, whose parish was hard hit by the Spanish flu in 1918, has kept his Church of St. Michael the Archangel on West 34th Street open for private worship by anyone who happens to wander in through the open doors and sits in back — as long as they keep a safe distance from one another — after the archdiocese, on medical advice, canceled all Masses indefinitely two weeks ago, in the middle of Lent.
“I have been impressed by the maturity and patience of our people,” he says via e-mail. “It reminds me of the strength of our parishioners who suffered so many losses on 9/11.
“New Yorkers are resilient.”
On the morning of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Father Rutler was at St. Agnes Church near Grand Central Terminal and rushed to Ground Zero to help, hearing confessions and administering last rites to firefighters.
He was there when the body of his fellow priest Mychal Judge, the first official casualty, was carried out of the rubble.
“We have a banner with the names of those killed on 9/11, and the whole neighborhood rallied then and now is flourishing,” he says.
St. Michael’s also was at the center of New York’s Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, which killed more than 30,000 New Yorkers and up to 50 million people worldwide.
One of the victims was a predecessor of Father Rutler’s: the second pastor of St. Michael’s, Father John Gleeson.
“I can only imagine the heroic work of our parish priests in those grim days,” says Father Rutler.
“Now with the Javits Center down the street being turned into an emergency hospital, our parish welcomes the chance to be of pastoral help.”
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