There were a few people ready to bring some cheer to New Yorkers in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, some of whom would’ve normally attended church on Easter Sunday. Instead, some showed up dressed in holiday costumes while maintaining social distancing and wearing masks.
Most churches were live-streaming their Easter Sunday Masses for their regular parishioners – but a few people were outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral wearing their Easter best, or just stopping by to say a silent prayer.
On the door of the cathedral, a note to the public read, “Due to COVID-19 Virus, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Will Remain Closed Until Further Notice. You Can Watch Mass On Our Website: Saintpatrickscathedral.org .”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan celebrated Easter Mass at St. Patrick’s in the morning; the service was broadcast on WPIX-TV and streamed on YouTube.
During his homily, Dolan compared the emptiness of New York to the emptiness of the tomb of the risen Christ celebrated on Easter.
“I bring all this up because we hear plenty about emptiness these days, don’t we, thanks to the dreaded pandemic,” Dolan said, noting the empty dinner tables across New York City for Easter and Passover; empty roads, businesses, schools and bank accounts; and the empty chairs of those who died of coronavirus.
“I ask, this paschal morning: Could the empty tomb of Easter be a metaphor for our world and our lives?” the cardinal continued. “Emptiness might be a blessing, not a curse, as the God of the living fills us with light, meaning, resolve, hope and life.”
Dolan hinted that the empty voids created by the pandemic gives New Yorkers an opportunity for personal and spiritual renewal of life.
Despite the restrictions in place, some came to the cathedral anyway, with most saying it was “unbelievable that there was no mass on Easter.”
“I came to support the Easter Parade and what that parade means to everyone – you have to believe that things will get better,” said Antonio Oliveri of Manhattan, an immigrant from Brazil. He stood on Fifth Avenue near the church while wearing an Easter Bunny suit and a Bugs Bunny mask covered, appropriately, with a mask and rubber gloves.
“There is so much sadness, I just want to make people feel a little better,” Oliveri said as he waved to the occasional car that drove past on normally busy Fifth Avenue.
Others stopped to say a silent prayer in front of the cathedral, or left potted tulips left at the center doors under the sign waving off Catholics from Mass.
“I said a prayer for the world,” said one woman who wouldn’t give her name after she knelt in front of the church steps for a moment. “We have the ability to lead in the scientific realm because God gave us that blessing. Our brilliant people will figure this out with God’s help.”
Bernard Thompson stood across the street from the cathedral selling pink bunny ears, but had few takers.
“I’m walking by and I’m trying to sell these, but I tired of sitting at home,” Thompson said, adding, “If I sell any that’s fine, otherwise, I’m getting some exercise.”
Alan and partner Robert came with fancy black top hats with bunny ears and blue and purple shiny jackets but also with their surgical masks and rubber gloves.
“It’s Easter,” Robert exclaimed, adding, “we do this every year and we had to at least come by today.”
Another young woman knelt down and said a silent prayer and then began walking away. As she left, she said, “We’ve got to pray for all those people who are sick – our prayers together will help a lot.”
One man walked his chihuahua named Chiquita, after the banana. The little dog barked at the few people on the street.
“Normally you can’t even walk her out here because he would get stepped on, but she’s enjoying it today, nobody to step on her,” her master said.
At nearby Times Square, a warm Sunday afternoon would have otherwise been wall-to-wall with people. It was a ghost town this Sunday.
One man sat nearby and sipped a soda in the Square where chairs and tables had been removed.
“I just took a stroll through the area, got myself something to drink – I just couldn’t sit home again,” said Martin Miller of Hell’s Kitchen. “I can’t believe how empty it is here.”
Downtown at the 9/11 Memorial, security officers watched a roped off the twin memorial waterfalls, shut down since the shelter in place request went out to the public.
A few flowers sat on the memorial, some families visit the site every Easter to honor the memory of their loved ones. Security officers volunteered to put the flowers on the names, but were not allowed to let them approach.
Two volunteers at the Bellevue Morgue, Dan and Farro — who wouldn’t give their last names — were in from Dallas and were visiting the 9/11 Memorial for Easter. Both have been helping the city deal with the bodies that have been piling up at the hospitals.
Dan and Farro were here after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, volunteering to help with the numerous dead. They decided Sunday to visit the memorial, the first time they had been here since that fateful day, on one of their few breaks.
“We haven’t been here since that day and we wanted to come down and pay respects,” said Farro, an emergency management specialists working with her husband, a mortician on the numerous deaths from COVID-19. “We just wanted to pay our respects and take a look after not having been back here since then. It’s a great city and we are here to support you.”
Her husband added, “It’s really a day of resurrection and hope. We need that.”
The homeless were also more numerous on this Easter Sunday, but few people would approach because of COVID-19 fears. One homeless man sat on Chambers Street, reacting to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call for more testing for COVID-19 with his own sign that said, – “Testing for random acts of kindness.”
With additional reporting by Robert Pozarycki