"Welcome home," said Father Damien Wee as he opened Mass for parishioners Monday — the first in several weeks — at St. Francis Borgia Catholic Church in Blair. Restrictions were eased for religious services across the state beginning May 4.
Peg Sigler said it was "overwhelmingly wonderful" to be back at church.
The time away from Mass put things in perspective, even if she was a little nervous to return, parishioner Magdalene O'Brien said.
"It has allowed me to realize how much the Eucharist is a gift to us and at times we take it so for granted, and being able to come back with open arms to receive this gift of himself is so special," she said. "Knowing this time away from the Eucharist God is still working through us and being close to us and being able to physically receive him reminds me of how life-changing it is and this time away from him during quarantine is truly purifying and allowing us to reset our focus on what's important in the Mass. It's really special.”
Parishioners may have noticed some changes due to coronavirus guidelines and restrictions. Ushers were working to keep things running smoothly.
"Depending on when people get here, around a half hour before Mass we are making sure doors are open so they don't have to touch the doors," John Foley said. "We will have social distance, half as many pews, blue lines on the way up to Eucharist, and tape indicated where people sat so those pews will be cleaned.”
Other changes include dismissing from back to front to minimize the potential cross traffic, removing things to see in the path so they will go straight outside.
"It's a matter of how to make things work in our situation," Foley said.
For Jack Leehy, it was a return to tradition.
"I'm used to going every day and it's great to be back," he said.
"A completion of the day and of the world. It fulfills a lot of need," Jim Diggins said.
Diggins survived polio when he was in second grade.
"I was lucky. Out of three in my wing, one went out in a coffin, one went out in a wheelchair and I walked out," he said.
Diggins said this experience is a bit of ”deja vu all over again.”
"Last time I was a participant and now I'm an observer," he said. "Polio was an unusual experience and had a lot of people worried and a lot of people took damage as a result."
Diggins said he thinks we have had as many die as a result of this coronavirus or more so.
"It's amazing how people think they can stay inside for a few weeks and then it's all over," he said. "It doesn't work that way."
He was in second-grade and said he didn't grow for three years.
"My younger brother was wearing all my clothes," he said. "Eventually, I got back in the saddle. I had terrific leg pain periodically but that went away."
Diggins liked the idea of opening churches.
"With all necessary precautions, I think it's a wonderful idea to open the churches," he said. "It's a main part of people's lives and at some point you can't hide under a bed."
He said he's had 72 good years and tries to be careful for the sake of loved ones around him.
"This too shall pass, just not as quickly as we would hope," he said.