As Manhattan office workers begin returning to their desks, attendance has increased at daily Masses in traditional weekday parishes in Midtown and Lower Manhattan.
The increase stems from faithful parishioners of these churches, who are grateful to participate in the liturgy in person again.
“This is my home; this is a place of spirituality, and we all need spirituality in our lives, especially now,” Mary Havey told Catholic New York July 19 before the start of noon Mass at Franciscan-run St. Francis of Assisi parish on West 31st Street.
“God is here; outside, it’s a disaster. You leave here with a sense of peace, well-being and love of God,” added Ms. Havey, 78, a retired nurse.
The return of in-person Mass “was good for all of us...And I love the friars; the friars are just kind, wonderful and very spiritual people.”
Deacon Michael Chirichella, 55, who works security in an office building near St. Francis of Assisi, also was present at the noon Mass July 19.
“It’s a beautiful thing that they brought the in-person Masses back. People needed it; the parishes needed it. The children of God needed it,” Deacon Chirichella, who was ordained as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Brooklyn in May and serves at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the borough’s Williamsburg section, told CNY after Mass.
“My faith is the central part of my life. God is the central part of my life, for me and my family. It gives me peace and the ability to help and serve others. I also volunteer here feeding the homeless every morning,” added Deacon Chirichella, as he sat in one of the middle pews, with a rosary in hand. “You can’t livestream Jesus; you can’t livestream the Eucharist.”
Father Thomas M. Gallagher, O.F.M., pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, said, “The increase has been moderate. We are still cautious…People are happy to be able to celebrate in person.
“Many comment on how good it is to be home. Tourists comment on how much they have wanted to visit St. Francis Church. Some have been following us online and livestream for months.”
Father Gallagher noted there is also some adjustment related to the parish’s fraternal and ministerial transitions during the pandemic. “We are meeting people for the first time,” he said.
While in-person attendance is important, the pastor said, the virtual experience has been "a great grace” for many. St. Francis is enjoying participation from many people who are homebound as well as former parishioners who now live outside the archdiocese, he said.
“We also hear from clergy in other parts of the world who find the preaching and celebration to be life-giving,” he said. “The grace of God transcends all of our structures. The movement of the Spirit via the virtual medium has been incredible.”
Upon further reflection, Father Gallagher said, “St. Francis of Assisi is joyfully welcoming all who desire to come celebrate with us. We are a rather unique church in that we welcome tourists, downtown workers, the homeless and many folks who call St. Francis of Assisi Church home. We see folks coming who desire to participate in the community, the Word and the Eucharist. They choose to come and there is less of a sense of obligation. All are welcome.”
Father Francis J. Gasparik, O.F.M. Cap., pastor of Capuchin Franciscan-run Holy Cross-St. John the Baptist parish in Midtown Manhattan, said weekday attendance at Holy Cross on West 42nd Street has been “nowhere near where we used to be. I would say we’re at about 25 percent of where it used to be. In all fairness, the (office) workers are not back either. Across the street from me, there’s a big tower. And the whole thing is completely empty. It used to be filled with workers.”
He said the increase in attendance is also minimal at St. John the Baptist Church on West 30th Street, near Penn Station.
The pastor noted that “a certain fraction would be Catholic, and a certain fraction of the Catholic people would be weekday churchgoers. The workers are not back, the commuting remains low.”
Father Gasparik also noted that it appears many people of Asian descent are not coming into Midtown Manhattan because of hate-crime assaults on Asians since the pandemic began. He said an Asian woman attacked on nearby West 43rd Street “was on her way to Holy Cross.”
He added that watching Mass on TV or online is beneficial when necessary, but there is no substitute for physical participation at Mass, “because of the fact that it’s the community celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.”
At Our Lady of Victory-St. Andrew parish on William Street in the Wall Street district, Father Myles P. Murphy, the pastor, said, “We’re not a typical parish; we’re both a residential and commuter parish. A lot of people are away on the weekends once Memorial Day weekend hits, and they really don’t come back again until sometime in September.”
As for weekday attendance since the easing of pandemic restrictions, Father Murphy said, “Yes, some increase, but not significant.”
In the Chelsea section, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Bernard on West 14th Street is located amid many shops and restaurants. Father Jesús Ledezma, the parish’s administrator, said the increase in weekday Mass attendance has been moderate.
“Some of them say they are blessed and happy to be able to go to Mass in person,” Father Ledezma said. “Celebrating the Mass is about encountering Christ and his Body, the Church. You do not get this online.”