Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Anne DiBernardo - Florida Catholic
VIRGINIA GARDENS | With only three weeks left to retire from Blessed Trinity School last November, William Blaha, affectionately known as “Mr. Bill” by all the students, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
When the city shut down in March for COVID-19, Blessed Trinity parishioner Paul Zilio and Deacon Ernie Sosa got a group of people together to drive by Blaha’s home to cheer him up and let him know they were praying for him. Another parishioner also had cancer, and they wanted to do something for both.
Although that first caravan took place by happenstance, it gave Zilio an idea. After he witnessed the outpouring of love and joy this brought, he felt led to spearhead what he dubbed a "caravan for Christ.”
Since then, a loving gesture to cheer up a friend has grown into a weekly act of evangelization that provides a wellspring of hope and faith for everyone in the parish — reaffirming the mystery of God’s call.
“As an engineer, I can’t handle disorganization,” said Zilio, who began by diagraming maps and setting forth COVID-friendly guidance for participants. Also included were notifications about whether using a horn would be appropriate for the respective homes.
The first house the caravan visited was in Hialeah, six or seven miles away. Keeping the 15-car convoy together while trying to make the lights was a challenge.
“We didn’t know what to do. It was a different animal. We honked horns and waved, and everyone was happy,” Zilio said.
The next house they visited was that of Maria “Terry” Perez, the former school principal and now director of institutional advancement. Perez felt the urge to say some prayers while the group — wearing masks and practicing social distancing — gathered to pray in a circle.
“When that happened, a lightbulb went off in my head that this is a beautiful thing. People who need this are not necessarily dying. They may be lonely, have financial problems, or grieving,” Zilio said.
Once he saw the need, he began recruiting others. The next time they visited five houses, among them the home of Perez’s elderly parents.
“It was so nice for her to have ten minutes of feeling loved and not having to lead,” Zilio said.
Blessed Trinity's pastor, Father Jose Alfaro, has participated when possible and was able to give his blessing to some sick members of the community.
Each week they see how much joy these visits bring to those who cannot leave their home due to illness or other health concerns such as age. In cases where the individual is too sick to come to the door, Deacon Sosa will pray while the resident comes to the window. Often, he and the group are met with tears of joy.
One week they visited the home of Blessed Trinity parishioners Miryam and Tom Knigge to pray for their grandson, baby Zachary, who was born with serious medical issues. Deacon Sosa pointed to the significance of the second joyful mystery of the rosary — the Visitation — calling the Caravan for Christ a ministry of presence.
“God chose to be born as a baby. In a special way we want to pray for baby Zach,” Deacon Sosa said as he led the group of parishioners and families in praying the second decade of the rosary.
“I can’t tell you how much this means to us,” Miryam Knigge said through tears and smiles.
“It was very refreshing and made us happy,” said Ambarina “Ambi” Vidal, who stood on the porch with her parents, Ambar and Manolo Vidal, as the rest of the group prayed the fourth joyful mystery in the driveway. “They had been feeling down in the dumps due to the shutdown. This was very special and very much needed.”
Teresa Fabano, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and Blessed Trinity's after-school director, is one of the participants in the weekly caravans. She described them as wonderful because they bring hope to people by taking Jesus to them while they are at home.
“We want to do good for others, and during these days of the pandemic, how many opportunities do we have to make a difference in somebody’s life?” she said.
What began by happenstance continues to bless not only the recipients, but those who take time out from their Saturday afternoon to stop by a home to bring Christ to the elderly, or shut-ins, or anyone who is going through a hard time.
“The most rewarding thing is feeling like I did something good for somebody and that they can’t repay me,” Zilio said.
Bill Blaha enjoyed that first visit so much that the group planned a return trip. Sadly, his health took a turn and he lost his battle with cancer Aug. 4, 2020, at age 56. Though the group did not make it back in time to visit in person, Blaha knew they were praying for him.