Father Sergio Rivas '12, Ss. Genevieve & Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr Parish
Submitted by: Rosemary Onesto and Diana Kroenke
Since the beginning of the pandemic and the stay-at-home order, Father Sergio Rivas demonstrated his devotion and effort to walk with our parish community in our faith. We entered a time of so much uncertainty and many of us felt heart-broken or disheartened to learn that the churches were not having public masses. But Father Sergio provided the members of the parish community with a sense of belonging to a parish family through comforting words--words of wisdom and hope to get us through these times. He helped us keep a positive mindset; that we should be glad that priests throughout the world would still offer masses and that the suspension of public masses was a sacrifice that we must make so that the most vulnerable of the community would not become sick.
Something that Father Sergio did to help keep the parish community stay connected, was to live-stream Sunday masses and daily masses on the parish Facebook page. This was something that he never did before, but he was creative and used technology to connect with the parishioners and others from around the world. He would celebrate the Mass by himself in the church and use his own cell phone to live-stream the Mass. Even though everything about the Mass was basically the same, there was something unique and personable about joining together for the Mass this way. Before he would begin the Mass, he would allow time for people to connect. He would use this time to thank us for connecting on Facebook and expressed his concerns for us and the world. He told us that even though he could not see us, he felt connected to us. It felt like he was having a genuine conversation with each one of us individually. During his homilies, he spoke to us about the new reality and how God can do good things out of this situation.
The most important part was that we were able to celebrate Mass together which created a sense of belonging to the Catholic Church and of belonging to a spiritual family. He would always end the mass by thanking us again for connecting and telling us that he loves us. He would also ask us to pray for him so that he could do what is best for us. Many people I know commented that staying connected this way meant a lot to them. I believe that Father Sergio responded to the pandemic in ways to promote safety, to continue to walk with us with the purpose to reach out to us in meaningful and effective ways during this difficult time.
Father Sergio positively impacted the faith of the community by teaching us how to grow deeper in our faith during the pandemic. He wrote a beautiful letter to the community entitled “A Word of Hope" (English PDF and Spanish PDF). In this letter, Father Sergio provided guidance on how to keep our spiritual life alive. It also portrayed his sense of deep concern that he has for each one of us. He could not be with us during this time, but he wanted to provide us with real-life guidance of what we could do to grow in our faith and warn us not to become lazy concerning our faith.
In the middle of the pandemic, there was a weekend of rioting and looting in Chicago and our parish was located in an area where this was happening and many businesses were damaged. Out of his compassion and feeling the need that he had to do something, Father Sergio held Eucharistic Adoration in the church that evening and live-streamed it on Facebook. When there was chaos all around us, he turned to God to bring hope and light to the world and showed us, through his example, to do the same.
Additional ways Fr. Sergio had a positive impact was that he was available to listen to people’s concerns. He let us know that if we needed to speak with him, not to hesitate and to call him. If anyone needed help or food, to let him know because he would find a way to help them. He also let us know that he understood us when we expressed our need for the sacraments, but he maintained a positive attitude that the sacraments would be celebrated again.
During the time of the pandemic, St. Genevieve & St. Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr Churches were going through the Renew My Church process and the two churches were uniting on July 1st with Father Sergio being appointed as the new pastor. So not only did he have to care for our safety and spiritual life, he also had to prepare for the uniting of two churches which required a lot of planning and attention to details.
I believe that Father Sergio Rivas should be recognized for the 2020 “In Service of One Another Catholic Humanitarian Award” because of his devotion to caring for the parish community that was entrusted to him. There was no way of knowing how the pandemic was going to unfold in any community or how to handle the situation. Our parish community was located in the Chicago area that had one of the highest rates of COVID-19 illnesses. But Father Sergio learned about the pandemic as it unfolded and was extremely vigilant about keeping everyone safe. From the time of the stay-at-home order to the present time of re-opening our parish, he was adamant about following all the necessary procedures and sincerely communicated to everyone that he didn’t want for anyone to become sick. We could feel that this was from his heart and that he really meant it. He used technology to stay connected to us and gave homilies and messages that we could actually use to apply to our lives. He definitely has a gift to communicate through words and actions, the love of God and that he is committed to bringing us closer to God. I believe that Father Sergio is using his gifts and talents in ways which show that he cares for one another’s spiritual and physical well-being. He is truly living out the calling of the priesthood and should be recognized for this award.