CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's faithful are rejoicing as the city begins to return to normal, but they say it is more about the meaningful reconnection with a community that has been kept distant for so long.
The Archdiocese of Chicago lifted many of the COVID-19 restrictions, including no more capacity limits, no masks or physical distancing for worshippers who are fully vaccinated.
"Well, it was really special. I saw some people that I only know from church, and I haven't seen them in over a year, so it was really nice. It was well done, well attended. I'm an early riser, I've never seen so many people at an early mass like I did today, so it's open, and it felt good," said Deborah Karabin, a worshipper at Holy Name Cathedral. "Even though I don't know them, it's still one big family, so, you know, it's just the human contact."
"This is the first time I didn't have to wear a mask, and that was pretty cool," said Rich Kaufman, worshipper at Holy Name Cathedral.
Receiving communion on the tongue may resume, but receiving from the cup remains on hold.
"It' became kind of a nice habit just to be at home, but there's something special when you're Catholic about actually getting communion instead of virtually getting it," Karabin said.
There are still some churches that will delay their full reopening for safety reasons, while places like Apostolic Faith and Holy Name will still offer streaming services, in addition to in-person.
"We're not doing anything different today versus last week," said Rev. Jamie Hawley, Lincoln Memorial Congregational United Church of Christ.
"Our congregation is primarily senior citizens, composed of senior citizens, and it's extremely important to know the data and to know who's vaccinated, who's not," Rev. Hawley said. "We're waiting to just practice caution just a little long until, until we can get some more, some more information.
Others who are back to in-person services felt a heartening return.
"It gives me hope for the future, and you know, hope that our city did it right," Karabin said.
"Being back at the cathedral, wide open. It is wonderful. Thank God," said Father Greg Sakowicz with Holy Name Cathedral.
The doors of Holy Name Cathedral were wide open as dozens poured into Saturday Vigil Mass without temperature checks or registration at the door.
"It feels great to go back to church and have Mass," said parishioner Tony Buena.
This long-awaited reunion of the faithful is stirring up emotions that many held back during the pandemic's peak.
"I could tear up right now thinking about it because I've been away from my spiritual home for so long that it's just amazing to be able to be back," added fellow parishioner Frannie Blonde.
"The importance of coming back to church through? Your cathedral, your parish -- it's for Eucharist and that sense of community, and there's no substitute for that," Father Sakowicz said.
In the city's South Side, faith leaders like Dr. Horace Smith, a physician and pastor at the Apostolic Faith Church, helped prepare for the church's full reopening day one step further.
"I understood in the very beginning that the only way out of this pandemic was either to get COVID or a vaccine," Dr. Smith said.
By linking its congregation directly to the science, they hosted town halls and vaccination clinics on-site for weeks, vaccinating more than 4,000 people.
"Our people really were activated early on to do the science behind the vaccine development," Dr. Smith said.
The combined efforts of faith and science brought joy to Chicago's faithful.
"I'm noticing people are happier," Father Sakowicz said. "It seems like a rejuvenation and enjoying people's hearts. Plus, it's summertime. It's like a brand new beginning."