Hail Mary: Faithful Gather Online to Pray the Rosary, Other Catholic Prayers in COVID Times
Catholics began using Zoom to pray together for safety and convenience, but now continue fostering newfound friendships and relationships.
Mary Valla started praying a daily Rosary on Zoom last year when COVID restrictions affected in-person gatherings. Restrictions have eased, but she continues to pray online because her mobility is limited and because it’s the only way to connect with prayer partners thousands of miles away.
“I’ve been somewhat isolated because of illness — my own personal illness, plus COVID — but I can always log on, and there’s always somebody there to pray with and talk to and to share my petitions with,” said Valla, 71, of Warren, New Jersey, who participates in an 8am Zoom Divine Mercy Chaplet and, when she can, a 10pm Rosary, both Eastern times. She may be joined by friends from across the U.S. and 14 countries.
The fact that others pray with her on the daily Zoom meetings that educator Nick Koeppel set up in March 2020 keeps Valla accountable in prayer, she said. “I really don’t have an excuse.”
As Catholics move further into the holidays, they may look forward to in-person rather than Zoom celebrations this year, but the online video-meeting platform still connects Valla and others who meet online for different reasons, including safety and convenience. Some say the prayer and fellowship have helped them grow in faith in these unusual times.
From the time Koeppel, 30, started his first Zoom Rosary group with friends from the 2019 World Youth Day in Panama, the groups he has initiated and advertised on Facebook have attracted participants from around the world, he said. Besides the groups Valla prays with, he offers another Rosary at 11am Eastern time to accommodate different time zones. Five to 10 pray-ers attend daily, on average, Koeppel said.
Koeppel, originally from Missouri, was grateful for his Zoom friends after he contracted COVID-19 in Austria in August on his way to Lviv, Ukraine, where he is teaching this year. The Rosary group later helped him adjust to living in Ukraine, he said.
“A lot of people stopped using Zoom for a while when we didn’t have to be locked down anymore, but we’re seeing the value of connecting internationally and from different parts of the U.S.,” Koeppel said. “Zoom is allowing us to connect that way. That really is a great blessing, actually, regardless of COVID.”
Concern over COVID led the Rosary group at St. Raymond de Penafort Catholic Church in Mount Prospect, Ilinois, to meet weekly on Zoom in April 2020, said parishioner Kathi Szott. The group has returned to praying in person monthly, as they had for at least 10 years before COVID, but they continue on Zoom as well, she said.
During the lockdown, up to 40 people joined online, but now eight to 12 attend weekly, Szott said.
Conversation isn’t the same on Zoom, but the group is keeping the option, she said. “I think that people like being together, but then sometimes they have infirmities,” Szott said. “They can’t get around, and they like being on Zoom; but then there’s that group of people who are very elderly and can’t navigate Zoom. I don’t know if it’s here to stay.”
The Zoom Rosary group Anna Maria Basquez leads at around 7pm Mountain time from Denver doesn’t show signs of stopping. Nightly, 10 to 20 souls log on, but the group is different each night. Since Basquez started the Rosary circle one and a half years ago, more than 200 people have prayed from around the world, she said. The group is advertised on Facebook, and some members are Catholic singles Basquez has met through her speed-dating business, though the group isn’t limited to singles.
The Rosary group grew out of a speed-dating Zoom meeting Basquez led on May 30, 2020, the night before Pentecost. Participants started receiving phone alerts about riots in their locations following George Floyd’s death earlier that week.
“It was really shocking to all of us,” she said. “It was definitely a big call to prayer in a very crucial moment of our history.”
Basquez and others gathered the next night to pray, and they continue to do so because they find much to pray about, she said. During the lockdown, singles isolated from their families appreciated meeting for the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet and fellowship, she said.
Five nursing-home residents who have also experienced isolation during COVID join Philip Lamb’s family in Pittsburgh and 17 or more households for a nightly Zoom Rosary at 7pm Eastern time.
“I will probably never stop this,” said Lamb, 52, who in August 2020 began leading the Rosary group Father Adam Potter started that March. “Being a father of eight, everything moves so quick, and you don’t realize the depth that you touch people’s hearts.”
In the group, members in different locations “meet” online; and during the lockdown, a romance developed between two young members, Lamb said.
He has also noticed participants growing in faith. “The depth of the Holy Spirit brought to people and the understanding of the Blessed Mother has strengthened a lot of people’s relationships with Christ.”
Father Potter, 33, parochial vicar at Mary, Mother of God parish in southern Pittsburgh, started the group while under COVID-19 quarantine. During the lockdown, as many as 180 households joined him for the Rosary and, later, a Marian consecration.
Praying on Zoom is an option for people uncomfortable with meeting in other’s homes or who like the convenience, said Father Potter, who occasionally returns to lead the Rosary.
It’s beneficial to pray with others, he said, “If you’re one person praying, you get the effects of one Rosary; but if you’re praying with 10 people, you are getting the effects of 10 Rosaries.”
Sarah Buffa, 41, of Chesterfield, Missouri, asked God for fellowship when she felt isolated at the start of the lockdown. She discovered Koeppel’s morning Zoom Rosary group on Facebook and said she continues to see God working through the prayer time.
“It has made me more faithful, and I yearn for camaraderie and just people of the same faith getting together,” Buffa said.
The online groups help build community, said Koeppel, who created a spreadsheet of Zoom Rosary groups around the world.
During the first year, Basquez’s group prayed together about job changes and loved ones’ illnesses and deaths. “I’m excited to see what else comes from it,” she said of the future. “We’re not unused to seeing miracles among us and big transitions that go well.”
Participants also support each other, Basquez said. “When at the beginning of the pandemic a lot of us were insomniacs, really in uncertain times and kept awake by all the unrest in life and worries and so on, it was so inspiring that even if I would call at 10 or 11pm, there would be people from everywhere still wanting to pray.”
Since the lockdown, Rosary group leaders said they have had opportunities to pray in person with members. The Lamb family sometimes invites participants for dinner before the Zoom Rosary.
From his local perspective, Father Potter, who also serves as spiritual adviser for a home-based Rosary group ministry, advocated for praying or attending Mass in person, though he acknowledged there are legitimate reasons for attending remotely.
“I worry about, [with] an emphasis to connect people virtually ... it’s not the same as praying the Rosary in person.” he said. “It’s not the same as actually being in Mass, participating in the Holy Sacrifice and receiving his Body and Blood.”
Valla’s friends living in other countries have little opportunity to pray the Rosary in person together, but they can unite spiritually online, she said.
“This is the universal Church, Catholic in the most beautiful sense of the word, and we’re all together, no matter what our country,” Valla said. “We all love Mary, and we all love Jesus.”
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Anna Maria Basquez:
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Philip Lamb: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/214787306
Nick Koeppel: Email [email protected]