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Dayhoff: People can’t attend church, so St. John priest brought ‘Jesus to the people’

Since church services were closed last Sunday, March 22, Father Mark Bialek of St. John Roman Catholic Church took the service on the road on a flatbed truck and gave Westminster a blessing of healing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since church services were closed last Sunday, March 22, Father Mark Bialek of St. John Roman Catholic Church took the service on the road on a flatbed truck and gave Westminster a blessing of healing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kevin Dayhoff/Courtesy photo)

Have church will travel. Last Sunday, St. John Catholic Church Priest Mark Bialek “celebrated Mass” by traveling from one end of Westminster to the other on the back of a flatbed truck. To a layperson he sort of celebrated Mass. A devout liturgist would argue that what he really did was bring one of the seven Holy Sacraments — of “anointing the Sick,” — to Westminster.

“He brought the Eucharist to downtown Westminster for a blessing on March 22 during the Coronavirus Pandemic,” according to a post found on the church’s Facebook page on March 22, which features a four-minute video of the historic event.

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In an email interview, Fr. Mark explained, “In this time of pandemic and heightened insecurity, when social distancing and closings have become our response in solidarity to keep one another safe and healthy, it is vitally important to remember that we are not alone even when isolated.

Since church services were closed last Sunday, March 22, Father Mark Bialek of St. John Roman Catholic Church took the service on the road on a flatbed truck and gave Westminster a blessing of healing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since church services were closed last Sunday, March 22, Father Mark Bialek of St. John Roman Catholic Church took the service on the road on a flatbed truck and gave Westminster a blessing of healing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kevin Dayhoff/Courtesy photo)

“Our buildings might be closed, but our parishes and churches remain open, because the Church is not a building, but a people. At a time when the faithful cannot gather for worship it is vitally important to bring Jesus to the people. For Catholics the most important gift that we can give is the Eucharist, which we believe is Jesus Himself.

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“Our people must know that they are not alone! Today we processed around the city of Westminster and brought Jesus to the people.”

It was the second Sunday in a row in which churches did not hold services. One needs to go all the way back to October and November of 1918 during the Spanish Flu epidemic to find the last time church services in Carroll County were halted for public health reasons.

Since church services were closed last Sunday, March 22, Father Mark Bialek of St. John Roman Catholic Church took the service on the road on a flatbed truck and gave Westminster a blessing of healing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since church services were closed last Sunday, March 22, Father Mark Bialek of St. John Roman Catholic Church took the service on the road on a flatbed truck and gave Westminster a blessing of healing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kevin Dayhoff/Courtesy photo)

On March 12, Gov. Hogan declared “Effective immediately, gatherings of more than 250 people, including social, community, spiritual, religious, recreational, leisure, and sporting gatherings, are prohibited at all locations and venues…”

Archdiocese of Baltimore spokesperson Sean Caine said in an article in the Baltimore Sun by Jonathan Pitts, on March 13, “‘For Catholics, the Eucharist is at the center of our spiritual lives, which makes Mass attendance a special priority. We will be looking at how best to comply with the Governor’s order, which we believe to be a just and responsible and necessary step, while also attempting to meet the spiritual needs of our people.’”

No worries for Fr. Mark. He’s got this.

At time when many churches, mosques, and synagogues were live-streaming services on the internet, Father Mark hopped on a truck and took the Eucharist to the people. The details were worked-out earlier in the week with Westminster officials Mayor Dominick, Council President Greg Pecoraro, and Police Chief Tom Ledwell. An agreement was made that there would be no public announcement so as to avoid any crowds. Even so many motorists stopped to pray and folks knelt on the sidewalks along the processional route.

Since church services were closed last Sunday, March 22, Father Mark Bialek of St. John Roman Catholic Church took the service on the road on a flatbed truck and gave Westminster a blessing of healing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since church services were closed last Sunday, March 22, Father Mark Bialek of St. John Roman Catholic Church took the service on the road on a flatbed truck and gave Westminster a blessing of healing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kevin Dayhoff/Courtesy photo)

He made a point of stopping by the McDaniel College Arch at the western end of town. He then stopped by “The Forks,” the traditional center of town where many historic speeches and presentations have taken place. Under the careful watch of Westminster Police Lt. Steve Launchi, he proceeded to RockSalt Grille restaurant,(even a priest needs to eat), the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce for a blessing of the business community, and Giulianova restaurant.

Fr. Mark made a special point of stopping at the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library — where the Catholic Church stood in Westminster from Feb. 28, 1777 when John Logsdon donated four acres for the establishment of a church and cemetery until Feb. 4, 1968.

Fr. Mark made a special point of stopping at the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library, where the Catholic Church stood in Westminster from Feb. 28, 1777 when John Logsdon donated four acres for the establishment of a church and cemetery until Feb. 4, 1968.
Fr. Mark made a special point of stopping at the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library, where the Catholic Church stood in Westminster from Feb. 28, 1777 when John Logsdon donated four acres for the establishment of a church and cemetery until Feb. 4, 1968. (1920 photo courtesy Babylon Dayhoff family papers. March 22, 2020 photo by Kevin Dayhoff)

Fr. Mark then made a special point of stopping by the Westminster Police Station where many police officers gathered for a special prayer and blessing. He also stopped by the Westminster Fire Department where again, he stopped to say a special prayer and blessing for the station and first responders.

Switching his message from a flatbed truck to an iPad, Fr. Mark later explained, “At the heart of town and on the site of our former St. John Catholic Church campus we asked for God’s blessing upon all the people of the city of Westminster and in extension Carroll County.

“By blessing the Chamber of Commerce we ask God’s blessing upon all of our businesses and those laid off or furloughed.

“We stand in solidarity and prayer with our police officers, fire fighters, first responders, doctors, nurses and those working towards a vaccine and cure. We pray for their protection, continued health, and safety.

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“We will get thru this together. God’s presence is the Light of the World and the darkness of this pandemic will not overcome it. Christ is with you. ‘Do not be afraid.’”

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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