BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Prayers were said in Mandarin and in English this Ash Wednesday. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio made a point of celebrating mass with Brooklyn's Chinese-American community. He visited St Agatha's Church in Sunset Park in the heart of a neighborhood known as Brooklyn's Chinatown.
"As we begin this Lent, we reflect on how we look upon our neighbors," DiMarzio said.
It’s an effort to show solidarity with a community that faces the threat of discrimination, because of fears of the Coronavirus outbreak, which began in China and is spreading around the world.
"They are our neighbors. We need to embrace them. We can't ostracize them. We need to make sure they don't feel personally responsible. The corona virus has taken this community a little by surprise. And some people may blame the Chinese community for its spread and so they feel a little on edge," DiMarzio said.
Although there are no confirmed cases of the new Coronavirus in the city, precautionary measures are being taken at St Agatha's. For several weeks now, parishioners havebeen receiving communion by hands instead of by mouth, and there is no sharing of the cup.
"This time of Lent under these circumstances it gives us an opportunity to meditate on the world situation," DiMarzio said in his homily.
"Anyone who recently returned from China we asked them to voluntarily contain themselves for two weeks," said Reverend Vincentius Do.
After mass each day, a smaller group stays behind in the church for a special prayer session.
This service is done with rosary beads in hand and a map of China displayed on the altar.
"We're really concerned about the Coronavirus and what's happening in China. I’m sure people are suffering," said Bli Zheng, a parishioner.
Relying on prayer, special blessings from the Bishop and the hope of a new beginning as Lent leads to Easter, parishioners say they're counting on the church to nourish their spirituality during this time of crisis.