CHICAGO (WLS) -- One year ago, the rector of the shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii was looking at empty pews after COVID-19 restrictions took effect in Chicago.
The shutdown was a crisis for many churches, and for the 100-year-old shrine in Little Italy, it could have spelled disaster. They relied on contributions to the collection plate to keep the church going.
"We just didn't know how we were going to go on, how we could reach people. It was very hard on us financially and spiritually," said Brian Roman, a member of the shrine's executive committee.
Before COVID, the shrine was usually packed, an important religious home to the large Italian-American community. It survived a crisis in 2004, when the parish school closed but the community convinced then-Cardinal Joseph Bernadin to keep the church open.
Now the community has come to the rescue again.
"Thank you for watching, and thank you for helping keep the doors of the shrine open," said Father Richard Fragomeni on one YouTube broadcast.
With no way to reach people inside the church, Father Fragomeni decided to reach out beyond the walls of the shrine, recording messages and putting them out on YouTube. He calls them "Mercoledi" or "Wednesday moments," and releases a one every week. They have gotten more than 30,000 views, and developed a following around the world.
"It came out of a need to be in touch with people during the lockdown," he said.
Online donations to the church, which were minimal before the pandemic, have now increased more than 300%.
While they are now allowed to have a small percentage of their 400 person capacity in the church for services, many more watch live streaming of the services.
"We're doing what we're called to do, to reach out to people in their need," said Father Fragomeni.
He also said the church has discovered a new way to reach people, and even when they are allowed to fill these pews with people again they plan to continue the Mercoledi messages.
Chicago Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii finds new way to reach churchgoers
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