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‘The next best thing’: With wedding disrupted by coronavirus, couple livestreams ceremony from Ellicott City

Nicole Terwilliger and Chris Castellano’s hopes of hosting hundreds of their family members and friends for their May 2 wedding dimmed with each step Maryland officials took to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The couple worried as the number of confirmed cases in Maryland grew and the initial restriction limiting gatherings to no more than 250 people — leaving their guest list intact — was revised to no more than 50, before the limit was later lowered to no more than 10.

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Terwilliger and Castellano didn’t want to wait more than a month until their wedding day to find out whether Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan might order the public to shelter in place, as officials elsewhere have done, and force the wedding to be postponed, the groom said in a phone interview.

“I didn’t want to get to a point where we actually couldn’t get married,” said Castellano, 30, who grew up in Montgomery County and is moving into a new home with Terwilliger in Columbia. “The continual waiting was making it even more stressful. ... I didn’t want to shelter in place without her.”

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On Saturday, the couple exchanged vows in front of a pared-down guest list — their parents, the matron of honor, the best man, the priest, a pianist and a photographer — and livestreamed the Catholic wedding Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City so hundreds of their loved ones and the public could watch from home.

The live-streamed wedding offered another indication of the far-reaching effects of the global coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than a 650,000 people with the COVID-19 illness and killed more than 30,000. In Maryland, more than 1,000 were known to have contracted the acute respiratory disease and 10 had died as of Saturday.

As viewers tuned into the wedding from parts of Maryland, Michigan, Virginia, Indiana and even Belize, the Rev. William Garrott quoted from Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” and spoke about Pope Francis praying through the pouring rain in an eerily empty St. Peter’s Square the day before.

“I can’t say if this is the best or worst of times,” Garrott said. “But I can say it is certainly the strangest of times.”

The pope on Friday compared the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 10,000 in Italy alone, to an “unexpected, turbulent storm,” putting all of humanity in the same boat, Garrott said.

Garrott highlighted some of the sacrifices the circumstances required of the couple, including the fewer guests and earlier wedding date.

A planned 200-person reception at Savage Mill couldn’t happen, of course, so they picked up Greek food instead, Castellano said. Their parents met Friday at a small gathering over a salmon and asparagus stir-fry prepared by Terwilliger’s mother, instead of a planned 50-person rehearsal dinner at Stella Notte.

“You had to strip away all of those normal accouterments,” the priest told the couple during the ceremony. “And yet here you are, ready to set sail in the midst of the storm. You can sail through that storm because the most important thing has not been trimmed away, the fact that you know the Lord. ... You know Him, and you know He is your helper, and you will not be afraid.”

Terwilliger and Castellano had been engaged since May and picked the scripture readings for their wedding long before they knew about all the adjustments they would have to make, the priest said.

The second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, emphasizes hospitality and being mindful of prisoners “as if sharing their imprisonment.” An otherwise unusual selection for a wedding, it fit the occasion perfectly, Garrott said.

“Most of your invited guests are imprisoned in their homes right now,” he said. “But you have not neglected hospitality. You have shared their imprisonment as if it were your own. You wish they were here, but you’ve done the next best thing. You are making available a live-stream feed of this very nuptial Mass. And I think that’s awesome.”

Castellano’s wedding ring was imprisoned, too, at the Zales in the Mall in Columbia, which closed before he could get it, forcing him to buy a silicon ring to use as a placeholder for the ceremony, he said.

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The Airbnb where the couple planned to spend a week-long honeymoon in Bar Harbor, Maine, visiting Acadia National Park, canceled their reservation, Castellano said, so they’ll have to figure out alternate plans.

But no disappointment showed in the live-stream as the glowing couple exchanged “I dos,” smiles, and their first kiss as husband and wife.

Their similar experiences in faith, honesty with one another, a mutual love of hiking and long walks in old neighborhoods — and a fateful match on CatholicMatch, an online dating site — helped bring the couple together, the groom said.

They were both disappointed to forgo the fanfare of a traditional wedding, but “what’s most important is we wanted to be married and make that committed covenant to one another,” Castellano said.

Live-streaming the wedding seemed like a great way to give the rest of their friends and family — and anyone else who need might need a pick-me-up — the chance to witness the happiest day of Terwilliger and Castellano’s lives.

“A lot of people are cooped up,” the groom said. “It could give them hope during a trying time and allow them to experience something joyful, the virtual way. ... We can have a party later.”

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