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Father Moreno Feeds his Flock in Drive-By Blessings

HOLTVILLE — While many clergy members in the Valley have taken to online services to feed their parishioners’ souls in this time of pandemic, the Rev. Jose Moreno, priest of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Holtville, prefers the more human touch.

Wearing a surgical mask that is a telling symbol of the times, Father Moreno can be found each Sunday morning donning his full Sunday vestments, carrying the solar monstrance, the Roman Catholic Church’s enduring symbol of Jesus Christ, and standing on the street corner outside his church bestowing blessings on the faithful who drive up in their cars.

“I am outside for 45 minutes each Sunday giving blessings to those who seek it. I start at 10:30 and run to 11:15, and so far, I’ve been doing this for four Sundays now,” Moreno said in a phone interview May 18. “As a priest, I must have this contact with my community. Although they know, I must remind them that God is with them.”

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Moreno performs such blessings in an effort to bring joy to his community, all while abiding by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention guidelines of wearing proper protective equipment, maintaining a safe distance, and ensuring he repeatedly washes his hands and sanitizes. 

“Although the vehicle windows don’t all come down, I see the excitement and love they (parishioners) receive from this blessing. It is important to feed the faith of the Holy Sacrament to our people. This gives them hope and strength to overcome such times as we will unanimously make it past the COVID-19 pandemic,” Moreno said. 

The church may not be open for Mass just yet, but the drive-through blessings provide comfort to many of those who have been missing it. 

“The lives of many older individuals revolve greatly around the church environment and without it their lives are much more distant. For my parents, who attended Mass two and sometimes three times a week, it has really put them in a slump,” said Holtville resident and St. Joseph member Erisela Boilin.

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Although Boilin acknowledged Catholic Mass can be celebrated online from a number of Imperial Valley churches, she said there’s something different about the human connection that comes with what Father Moreno is doing.

“You know, if someone calls (while watching online Mass), we put it on pause, start or rewind. It is just not the same. You are not completely focused because you are not in the house of God,” she said. “I like the drive-through blessings because it gives us our weekly or even monthly offering to the church. It also provides us with that hope and connection that we need during this pandemic. Like many other non-essentials, the church, too, has taken a hit and it is our responsibility as parishioners to give back.”

Father Moreno said he plans to continue this newfound tradition in hopes of bridging the gap and help to maintain or even grow one’s faith during this COVID-19 pandemic. He’ll be the man in the mask, standing at the corner of Sixth Street and Maple Avenue.

St. Joseph Catholic Church is at 560 Maple Ave. in Holtville.

This story is featured in the May 21, 2020 e-Edition.