New York priest on the front line against virus with besieged congregation
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NEW YORK (AP) – Raul Luis López never got the chance to say goodbye.
López was hospitalized with COVID-19 on April 3 before succumbing almost three weeks later. The 39-year-old man from Oaxaca, Mexico suffered from diabetes which made his illness worse. The day he left for treatment was the last time his wife, Sara Cruz, saw him.
Now, López’s family, clad in surgical masks and gloves, were gathered in the Widow’s Living Room in the Corona neighborhood of Queens, New York, around a black box of her cremated remains. A depiction of the Virgin of Guadalupe, patroness of Mexico and the Americas, watched over her ashes on a table next to flowers and prayer candles.
Rev. Fabian Arias, a Catholic priest from Buenos Aires, Argentina, is the pastor of Iglesia de Sion, a congregation with a missionary relationship alongside St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan, and has performed funerals 14 times in the past two months. Saturday’s service for López was the first that it could have happened in a private residence.
“Ninety-nine percent of funeral homes don’t have people for religious ceremonies; they say ‘no’, ”Arias said. “They will take your body and do the cremation. “
The financial costs of the services, already difficult to pay for working-class families, are compounded by the historic death toll pushing the city’s funeral homes into overcapacity. Most have ended traditional religious services and family reunions, including cemetery burials.
“People don’t have the capacity to pay,” Arias said. “And when they have the opportunity for a service, they abuse the community. They say, “You pay $ 10,000, $ 15,000. “
Taking care to protect himself from the contagion with personal protective equipment and hand sanitizers, he was taken to a house on a quiet street in the heavily Latin neighborhood. Almost a dozen family members inside are waiting to welcome him, including López’s cousin, Miguel Hernandez Gomez.
“Funeral homes gave us no choice,” Gomez said. “If we had had more choice, we would have done better for him. “
López, who worked in the delivery industry, arrived in the United States 20 years ago and moved to New York City nine years before his death. Described as a kind man and devoted to his fellow parishioners, his loss causes his family to suffer beyond the city’s borders.
“We are planning to send it to Mexico, but at the moment we don’t have international flights,” Gomez said. “We are trying to bring him to our city, for his mother, his father, who are still alive in Mexico. It’s our family but it belongs to them, to his parents.
Despite the risks, Arias is fearless, trusting in God and taking great care to reduce the risk of transmission.
“It’s very difficult for our community,” Arias said. “For all Latinos, when our people die, they receive a blessing. We say the last goodbye and pray together. Its very important for us.
At the end of the service, the family, still masked, went to the kitchen to have a meal; they spread out as much as possible.
“After this service I feel much, much better and relieved that Raul’s spirit is released into the hands of God,” said Cruz. “Everyone is afraid, not only for ourselves, but for our community and especially Father Fabian and all the services he provides.
“It’s very dangerous for him. But he’s there for us.
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