Calm in the storm: Prayer and parish communities provide peace when COVID-19 hits hard
Believing in a higher power has guided people through troubled times for thousands of years. Three North Texas Catholics share how faith, family, and friends helped them deal with illness and loss when the novel coronavirus touched their lives.
Placing Themselves in God’s Hands
The first hint of illness for Selena Flores came while mashing a bowl of potatoes for dinner. Thinking the vegetable tasted bland, she oversalted the dish.
Then the 47-year-old mother of five couldn’t smell the aroma of steaks being grilled or savor the flavor of iced tea.
By nightfall, her temperature was 102 and the symptoms pointed to the obvious — she had COVID-19.
Flores, one of more than seven million Americans infected with the highly contagious disease in 2020, most likely caught the virus from her daughter, Marisa. The 23-year-old nurse tested positive after caring for an elderly COVID patient. The family had already self-quarantined.
“It was the worst feeling I ever had in my life. I’ve been sick before but never like that,” said the St. Patrick parishioner who developed migraines, blisters, and respiratory issues. “A couple of times I thought about going to the hospital, but I was afraid that if I went in, I might not come out.”
Instead of receiving in-person medical treatment, Flores relied on over-the-counter products to treat symptoms. Her fiancé, Mike Olier, donned a hazmat suit before bringing in meals and medicines to the bedridden Flores and her daughter.
“There were nights when I cried and feared not waking up,” the payroll/bookkeeper recalled.
She credits faith, friends, and comforting texts from her pastor, Father John Robert Skeldon, for pulling her through the health crisis. Reading inspirational books recommended by the priest boosted her resilience.
“We prayed a lot at home, and good friends kept us in their prayers,” the cradle Catholic added. “That’s all we could do.”
Flores’ battle with COVID lasted a month and subsided after an urgent care doctor prescribed steroids and antibiotics.
Grateful to live through a virus that’s killed more than 210,000 Americans, the COVID survivor said the experience changed her.
“I learned life is very short and you never know what’s going to happen next,” Flores mused. “I talk to my family members more and express how I feel.”
Suffering with the coronavirus also made her stronger spiritually. Putting her fate in the hands of the Lord helped Flores cope with the mental and physical pain of the disease.
“This virus is bigger than us. We knew we needed to leave it in the hands of God and pray for healing,” she said emotionally. “It renewed my faith. I still can’t believe we survived.”
This Virus is Real. It Hurts.
Elvia Acevedo finds comfort in spending time in the Adoration chapel at St. Peter the Apostle Parish. The death of her father and two other relatives from the coronavirus within a two-week period is still too much to bear. Quiet meditation eases her grief.
“When I found out my dad tested positive for COVID, I felt helpless,” remembered the marriage preparation coordinator who had a special relationship with her dad. “I wanted to go home and be with him but knew I couldn’t.”
Her parents, who lived in Aurora, Illinois — about 30 miles west of Chicago — followed quarantine guidelines. Antonio Acevedo only left his house to go grocery shopping with his son. But a week before Easter, the 79-year-old began feeling sick and went to the emergency room for coronavirus testing. Dizzy, light-headed, and weak, the elderly patient was told to isolate at home. A few days later, an ambulance returned him to the hospital where his health deteriorated. Acevedo’s mother and brother were also infected with the virus but recovered.
“I reached out to Father Manuel [Holguin, former pastor at St. Peter,] and told him what was going on,” the church worker explained. “We prayed. He was very available to me and asked for updates.”
The outreach soothed her nerves and helped when her father died April 25 in the ICU. Talks with Sister Ines Diaz, SSMN, offered another layer of comfort and consolation.
Prayer groups at her parish, St. John the Apostle, and Holy Trinity in Azle where her husband, Jesus, assists as a candidate for the diaconate, provided Acevedo with additional support.
“Even though I wasn’t close to people physically, I felt the warmth and prayers from everyone,” she said tearfully. “We prayed for the best [outcome]. That helped a lot.”
Shortly after her father passed away, an uncle died from COVID on Mother’s Day weekend, and days later her husband’s aunt succumbed to the virus in Mexico City.
“Remember to support not only the person who is ill, but also the family surrounding them with prayer and positive words,” Acevedo advised. “This virus is real. It happens and it hurts.”
Let’s Take Care of Each Other
When three members of Ginger Benes’ extended family died from the coronavirus within days of each other, Holy Trinity parishioners rallied around her.
“My church community was amazing,” said the director of youth and Confirmation. “We’re blessed to have a group within our church community we can immediately reach out to for prayer. They bring us comfort.”
Described as faith-filled and loving, Benes’ aunt and uncle were in their 80s but led an active lifestyle in San Angelo. Their son was a healthy 63-year-old who was raising his grandchildren after their mother died from brain cancer. All perished over a weekend.
“It felt like a storm raging that we had no control over,” said Benes, who kept in frequent contact with relatives through texts and social media during the crisis. “We found shelter in our prayers, faith, and love for one another.”
A double funeral for Adela and Joe Trevino was held in San Angelo but attendance was limited because of health concerns.
“I just prayed over their gravesite,” said Benes, who was unable to attend any Masses. “I have a huge, loving family. Not being together to hold each other as we grieved was difficult.”
Affected dramatically by the coronavirus, the Azle resident is a strong advocate for wearing a mask, social distancing, and taking other preventive measures to avoid infecting others.
“My aunt and uncle did what they were supposed to do but they were around somebody who didn’t,” she said. “It’s important to remember what Jesus told us to do — love one another — take care of one another.”
Following public health advice is one way we obey His command.
“We do that through social distancing, through masks, sanitization — all the things Bishop Michael Olson set out so we can participate in the Mass,” she pointed out. “Just do it. Let’s take care of each other.”