God’s power, love and mercy sustain us wherever we find ourselves

SCRANTON – Wearing a mask and sitting on a lawn chair directly in front of a sign encouraging social distancing, Kim Derbin waited patiently for the closing Mass of the Solemn Novena to Saint Ann to begin on Sunday, July 26, 2020.

“I’m blessed. I try not to ask for too much. I do ask for patience,” Derbin said. The 96th Novena at the National Shrine of Saint Ann in West Scranton was unlike any other for many reasons. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all Masses and services were held indoors where seating capacity was limited and sanitization a constant priority. But for Derbin, the 2020 Novena was different for another reason, it was the first since her mother passed away last summer.

“She is close to me now. She is with me all the time like God is with me,” Derbin added, saying she was thankful the ten days of prayer and devotion were allowed to go on. “I think some people think ‘it’s so different,’ but different is okay.”

Traditionally, Novena crowds number in the tens-of-thousands. This year, the numbers were just a fraction of that. Many chose to watch Novena services on CTV: Catholic Television or social media.

“I watched it on TV. I made a point to watch this past week,” Antoinette Varvaglione of Pittston said. Varvaglione attended the closing Mass of the Novena. It was her first time at the Basilica this year which she said was unusual.

“You hope and pray all of this goes away and we can get back to our lives,” Varvaglione explained. The preachers at this year’s Novena focused on the theme “By His Wounds, We Are Healed.”

During the closing Mass, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera focused on hope – saying despite the pandemic – God is woven into our lives and His power, love and mercy sustain us wherever we find ourselves and whatever the challenges facing us may be.

“If you stop and consider what we’ve been up against for the past five months, we’ve been immersed in a global pandemic that continues to wreak havoc throughout the world. We’ve been isolated one from another, afraid for our own well-being and that of those we love. We’ve been confronted with loss, grief and pain…yet through it all, something quite miraculous has occurred. We have been living out our faith – even and especially in the midst of adversity,” Bishop Bambera said.

“So many among us have looked beyond themselves and their own comfort and well-being to serve the most vulnerable. Many of you have reached out to the lonely and have sought to care for the brokenhearted. Countless numbers of you have shared from your bounty with those who have lost so much. In so responding to our suffering world, countless numbers of you have acknowledged, almost instinctively, where the true and lasting treasures of God are to be found. They are found within us and among us, aren’t they?”

During his homily, the bishop noted that while this year’s Novena looked much different, the Novena prayers can truly be said anywhere. He used an example to illustrate his point.

“I went into the doctor’s office for a check-up the other day at 7:15 a.m., and as I signed in at the desk, the woman sitting behind it held up her Novena prayers, reminding me that they can be prayed wherever we are,” he illustrated.

Al and Madaline Lori of Waverly listened to the bishop’s homily while maintaining social distancing outside the Basilica.

During a normal year, the couple would attend services up to five or six days. This year, they only came in person twice.

“I feel peace here. It brings me right back to my childhood and I strongly believe in the Blessed Virgin and Saint Ann,” Madaline Lori said.

“Over the years, there have been so many medical things we’ve laid before her and asked for help, and she has come through all the time.”

While noting that only about 65 people sat outside during the closing Mass, Al Lori said the precautions in place didn’t dampen the experience.

“We have to be safe. It makes sense to be more careful,” he added.