Fr. Dr. Lukas Laniauskas, S.J., founded the St. Oscar Romero e-Church
Submitted by: Jolita K. Narutis
In response to the Pandemic, Fr. Lukas may have founded one of the first Catholic e-parishes through the use of the internet. Fr. Lukas named our parish as the St. Oscar Romero E-Church. We met every single day during the Pandemic for Mass at 1:00pm through his Zoom link, as our numbers grew from word of mouth from 30 to over 300. Because of the possibilities afforded by the internet, we felt the strength of the universality of the Catholic Church binding us in faith through the diverse nature of our parish's members. Though our e-parish was primarily made of members of the Chicago archdiocese, we also celebrated Mass with Catholics from throughout the United States - Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Colorado, California (and probably more) - as well with Catholics throughout the world - from Mexico, Canada, Germany, and Lithuania. We were one people under God's care during a devastating time in history.
Fr. Lukas' dedication to helping us meet the challenge of the Pandemic showed through the amount of time and effort he expended everyday to make his Masses even more meaningful to us. Each day we virtually "met" at a different Church to celebrate Mass. Fr. Lukas used the power of Zoom to choose a different background every single day for Mass. This background was a Catholic Church somewhere in the world that was directly tied into the readings of the Mass for that day as well as into his sermon. Frankly, I was excited to log on every day to see where we were "traveling." So instead of feeling locked in during the Pandemic, I felt like a world traveler seeking God.
His sermons highlighted our "location" for the day and we were given "homework" tied into them. Everyday we were given an actionable task to perform in the confines of being quarantined! That was truly amazing! In addition, the hymn that he chose everyday during the Communion time period even echoed the exact words of the readings and/or his sermon. Everyday - a new Church to worship, a new hymn to listen to, a new task to undertake - all to help us realize that we can trust in God to make it through any difficulty. How much better can it get! And how lucky to be a Catholic to share in it!
Fr. Lukas also encouraged us to bind together in asking for God's help. Parishioners of this e-parish were able during the Prayers of the Faithful to bring their own individual worries to all of us. We spoke up as the Spirit moved us. In addition, after Mass we stayed on Zoom to celebrate milestones in our lives, as for example, the birth of parishioner's child, the death from COVID, the cancer treatments of another, the celebration of Fr. Lukas' doctorate, and the birthdays and anniversaries of the members. Though many of us had not known each other before we started participating in his Masses, we became a true faith community.
Fr. Lukas' Masses were the highlight of my day during the Pandemic, as I know they were for many of us who plugged into Zoom to be at his Masses. We often were so moved by his Masses that right afterwards we would call each other to discuss his sermons. Quite unbelievable!
Through Fr. Lukas' sermons, homework, and choice of hymns, I experienced a renewal of my Catholic faith. I have been a practicing Catholic my whole life and have belonged to a Bible study group for over 20 years, but the time spent with Fr. Lukas and my fellow e-parish members was an absolute burst in my faith.
Fr. Lukas has an incredible ability to make faith "everyday." Through the examples that he gave through his sermons, and in particular in doing his given "homework" , I was able to focus more deeply on applying the Gospel's message to those around me in the everyday acts of living. This help was especially acute when facing the unknown of the Pandemic. He spiritually not only supported us through the fear, but uplifted us as well. The e-parish brought faith and hope to each of us in the brokenness of this time period.
My immediate answer is for all that I wrote above. If I were to summarize, I would say that in the middle of the fear of a pandemic, he brought God closer to each of us and made us realize that even in the most dire circumstances, we are never alone if we are with God . We had no idea of what would happen to us once the pandemic began. Through his Masses we were no longer quarantined in our homes, but we were joined with people of faith throughout the world, knowing that God was with us. My world became larger. In the midst of this fear of the unknown, Fr. Lukas through his own initiative created a community of faith by bringing Catholics throughout various places in the world together in faith through the incredibly creative use of a 21st century technological invention - the internet and Zoom.
Fr. Lukas' dedication to creating this community is especially noteworthy because he was under a time deadline to complete his doctoral dissertation. Having gone through the process of writing a dissertation myself, I really marveled at how he sacrificed his time to worry about others' faith journey by creating our e-parish.