The mood was somber at “Praying Through a Pandemic: A Service of Hope and Remembrance” on Oct. 12. The interfaith service was held via Zoom at 5:30 p.m. and it invited the Fairfield community to join Campus Ministry in mourning the loss of victims of COVID-19 and to pray for a better tomorrow.

The service opened with an introduction from Father Gerald R. Blaszczak, who led a prayer for hope in the midst of this virus. He then introduced President Mark Nemec, who offered some of his thoughts and prayers.

“Originally, we had hoped to hold this service in-person, but out of an abundance of caution, we decided to make the service remote,” Nemec said. “These months have taught us that at Fairfield we are anything but remote from one another. The bonds we share are strong and deep.”

Nemec described the coronavirus as “the greatest public health crisis in 100 years,” a sentiment echoed by the sheer number of cases and deaths in the United States. Since March, the U.S. has seen almost eight million cases and over 210,000 dead according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, despite these numbers, Nemec encouraged Fairfield to remain hopeful.

“Fairfield remembers, Fairfield unites and Fairfield prays,” he said.

Rabbi James Prosnit provided a prayer, citing the book of Lamentations in the Bible and calling on all students of faith to pray for their campus community and the nation throughout all of the chaos seen over the past seven months. 

The Muslim and Protestant chaplains both spoke and gave their prayers, echoing similar sentiments to Prosnit.

Following these prayers, David Rinaldi, son of the late Fairfield professor, novelist and poet, Nicholas Rinaldi, gave a moving eulogy in remembrance of his father who passed away this spring due to complications from COVID-19. 

Two Fairfield students were also given the opportunity to speak. Chris Navarro ‘22 spoke about his family’s financial struggle in the spring and summer, which led to him accepting a job as a waiter at a restaurant. He returned to campus on Aug. 16, but soon found out that he had contracted COVID-19. He was forced to quarantine for 12 days in the Conference Center. Navarro said that he spent most of his time in quarantine reflecting on his life and trying to keep a positive attitude about the situation, despite how bleak it seemed. 

“We all need to have that little bit of hope that we can grow,” he said.

David Marrero ‘22 and his mother both contracted COVID-19 back in the spring. His mother was exposed to the virus after administering COVID-19 tests as a healthcare worker. While his mother remained mostly asymptomatic, Marrero began to experience intense symptoms. 

“I didn’t tell anyone about my shortness of breath because I didn’t want to go to the hospital,” he said. “I stuck it out at home.” 

Marrero quarantined at home for a total of 22 days, and said that he sometimes felt lost while he had the virus. 

“I don’t want anyone else to experience COVID-19 like I did,” he said. “It was physically and mentally draining.”

After a closing prayer by Father Paul Rourke, vice provost Jocelyn Boruczka announced a digital remembrance project through the DiMenna-Nyselius Library. Students and staff alike will be able to post their thoughts, prayers and pictures on a digital remembrance wall, found on the library website.

Although the mood of the event remained solemn, and at times sullen, each speaker reminded us that we need to stay hopeful throughout the pandemic. “Dealing with COVID-19 is like walking through a dark tunnel,” said Marrero. “You don’t know where you’re going, but there’s a light at the end of it.”

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