Diocese of Lake Charles
LAKE CHARLES — A pandemic has suspended public Masses around the world, but it hasn’t stopped Jesus Christ from public ministry in the Diocese of Lake Charles.
With the help of two priests, two deacons, three red Fords, and several other people, the Divine Physician and Healer of Souls is making His Presence known throughout the territory of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish.
When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic peaked in Italy in early March, Monsignor Daniel A. Torres, Vicar General for Pastoral Services and pastor of Our Lady Queen of Heaven, saw an inspiring story on the internet. It involved a Catholic priest being flown over all the cities of Italy while he prayed a blessing with the Blessed Sacrament of the Lord and a statue of Our Lady of Fatima on board.
“This powerful scene of faith, hope and love inspired me to bring the Lord to the parishioners of Our Lady Queen of Heaven since they cannot attend Mass due to the mandate of no public Masses or distribution of Holy Eucharist to the faithful,” said Monsignor Torres.
After spending time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, Monsignor Torres turned to Bishop Glen John Provost and civil authorities seeking permission for a similar journey locally — not by plane, but with three red Ford trucks.
“Aside from being easily noticed, the color red is significant because it is the color of blood,” Monsignor Torres said. “The Lord Jesus Christ shed his blood for the salvation of the world. With two white vehicles on either side of the three red trucks, it symbolizes the Divine Mercy image of the red and white rays coming from Jesus Christ to the world.”
To put his plan in action, Monsignor enlisted help from the Queenan Family — Tyson, Genne, Luke, Zach and Emily — who are the owners of the Ford trucks; Garret Stine, Mark and Felicia Borel, Deacon Brian Kirk, Deacon Levi Thompson, Father Trey Ange, James Thompson, Noah Williamson; and Mike and Dawn Williamson.
It took nearly five hours with Garret’s help to map out the route ahead of the inaugural procession.
“I knew the parish territory was large, but to drive it is very humbling,” said Monsignor. “We begin at 10 a.m. on Sundays and have increased the route since we only covered 80 percent of the parish the first time out on March 22. Since March 29, we are now covering 59.2 miles of neighborhoods, which is about 99 percent of the OLQH territory. It takes nine hours to complete the route.”
Through the course of the journey, prayers are being offered invoking the Lord to bless the medical personnel fighting on the frontlines of this pandemic, especially in the parish territory, at nursing homes, hospitals, as well for the families who are experiencing anxiety and worry.
"The hope is that as the Lord passes the hospitals, nursing homes, and homes of medical personnel, they may all be strengthened by the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior,” Monsignor Torres said. “Through the course of the journey, we are praying the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Angelus, listening to Gregorian Chants, and hymns of the liturgical season.”
Monsignor said it his hope that while public Masses are suspended, he and his team will be the arms and feet of Christ by bringing the Blessed Sacrament to the neighborhoods every Sunday.
Why three red trucks? Monsignor explains it this way:
The first truck in the procession carries the Blessed Sacrament in a gold monstrance secured on a pedestal as Monsignor Torres protects it with his arms for the journey. The second truck carries the statue of Our Lady Queen of Heaven secured by Deacon Kirk and Deacon Thompson. Father Ange follows in the third truck providing spiritual music, chants and prayers on a sound system.
The faithful witnessing this merciful act of love are asked to come outside their homes as a family and kneel or bow as the Blessed Sacrament passes by. There is no stopping along the way, and the social distancing from the vehicles to the people is about 12 feet. People are informed via Flocknote text as the procession approaches their neighborhood.
After Our Lord passes each house, families are asked to immediately enter their homes and pray one Our Father, 10 Hail Marys, and one Glory Be for the intentions of medical personnel and their families.
“To see the people on their knees praying is very humbling,” Monsignor said. “When I witnessed the Lord passing by the people on their knees in their yards on Palm Sunday, I could see their yearning for the Lord. This was the closest they could receive the Lord since public Masses were suspended on March 17. It was registering on their faces and in their expressions. They miss the Eucharist — the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Monsignor observes many people praying silently. Some are gazing and then bowing. There are children as young as 2 years old kneeling with their families making the sign of the cross.
“There are many tears being shed,” he said. “The parishioners have been moved by the experience of knowing they cannot partake in the reception of the Eucharist at Mass. They know through the gift of faith that as the Lord Jesus comes by their homes, they can receive the graces of Christ strengthening them.”
Monsignor affirms, “God is alive. God is here. God has not abandoned us. God loves us.” However, celebrating Mass privately has not been easy, he admits.
“The absence of parishioners coming to Mass has had an inward sense of pain for me,” Monsignor acknowledges. “I miss the people. Bringing the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament to the neighborhoods and seeing the parishioners brings many tears to my eyes as well as moments of cries from my heart. I guess that is love wailing up in me for the people that I am called to serve, those people I love very much.”
Praying is the main source of strength that keeps Monsignor Torres focused during the temporary absence of parish life.
“Praying the private Mass for the people of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish daily and for their intentions is a truly humbling act where I feel their closeness as I elevate the Host and the Chalice at Mass,” he said.
Even through sacrifices he and so many are called to make through this pandemic, Monsignor Torres doesn’t hesitate to reflect on an abundance of blessings.
“I am grateful to Bishop Provost for assigning me to this beautiful parish of OLQH four years ago. I am seeing the ongoing beauty of priesthood, and it is being reinforced by the sacred journey of bringing the Lord on the road with three red Fords,” he said. “I am grateful to those helping in this mission.”
Monsignor gives credit to his four housemates — Father Ange, Father Ruben Villarreal, Father Charles Okorogu, and Deacon Thompson — for sharing the gift of laughter to help stay sane. He is especially thankful to Father Ange for sharing his gift of “movie making” by streaming daily Masses online for OLQH and for the Diocese during Holy Week.
Monsignor Torres offers this encouraging message for the faithful in the Diocese of Lake Charles while social distancing remains in effect:
“When we are focused on Jesus and are living in Him, there will be no darkness, only light. There will be no despair, only hope. There will be the knowledge that God is here, and He loves us. We are going to make it. We are going to rise from this. Pray. Stay close to the Lord. Do not be afraid.”