‘Adoration in a van,’ drive-thru confessions highlight Companions’ COVID-19 ministry

A priest of the Companions of the Cross incenses the Blessed Sacrament exposed from the back of a van on the grounds of the Companions’ compound, 17330 Quincy St., in Detroit. The Companions have been bringing adoration and confession to the faithful, while observing social distancing guidelines, since the pandemic began. (Courtesy photos)

With access to the sacraments limited, religious community based in northwest Detroit gets creative in bringing Jesus to the people

DETROIT — Browsing through the “About” section of the Companions of the Cross’ website, one would find the Companions are called to “preach the Word of God with passion, celebrate the sacraments with devotion and lead with confidence.”

But the congregation isn’t in the pews to hear the Word being preached, and they can’t receive the sacraments in the same manner as before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, the Ottawa-based society of apostolic life that administers St. Scholastica Parish in northwest Detroit is leading with confidence, just in a different way.

When the Companions learned public Masses would be suspended, “we assembled a team from the parish council, the leadership team and a few key parishioners, one of whom works for Google,” said Fr. Jim Lowe, CC, administrator of St. Scholastica. “We felt he’d be a good person to have on the team.” 

Companions of the Cross priests, deacons and seminarians process with the Blessed Sacrament near the Companions of the Cross compound in Detroit. Every Sunday, the Companions offer livestream liturgies, “adoration from a van” and social-distancing “drive-thru” confession opportunities.

On the city’s west side at the intersection of Outer Drive and the Southfield Freeway, St. Scholastica seats more than 1,500 people, so keeping the church open for private prayer and guaranteeing its cleanliness wasn’t possible, Fr. Lowe said.

Instead, the parish team adapted livestream technology to broadcast First Friday Masses, Eucharistic adoration, rosaries, Divine Mercy Chaplets, the litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and praise and worship music, all available on the parish’s social media and YouTube pages.

Fr. Carlos Martins, CC, even retrofitted the van he uses for his Treasures of the Church ministry — a traveling exhibit of more than 160 relics — with an altar and a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament to allow for in-person adoration on the property of the Companions’ formation house at 17330 Quincy St., so long as the faithful attending maintain social distancing guidelines. 

“We set up the altar and removed everything else from the van, so it exposes our Lord from the back of the van,” Fr. Martins said. “The monstrance is protected from wind and rain, and it’s easy to direct people where to sit. People bring their own lawn chairs and observe social spacing.”

Adorers are required to park outside the gated parking of the Companions’ compound. Drive-thru confession is also available to those who desire the sacrament.

A priest hears a person’s confession in the parking lot on the Companions’ compound in northwest Detroit. Adoration and confession are available each Sunday. 

Fr. Martins said adoration is available from 3 to 5 p.m. every Sunday, followed by a procession of priests, deacons and seminarians from the Companions’ community. The faithful are not allowed to join the procession, but may observe from their cars.

Being able to adore the Blessed Sacrament in a parking lot — like watching a livestream of Mass — is something, but isn’t a substitute for the “real thing,” Fr. Lowe said. As the faithful hunger for the Eucharist, the clergy miss the weekly connection with parishioners.

“We know people feel a disconnect from the sacraments, the Eucharist, from the presence of the sacraments,” Fr. Lowe said. “I feel the disconnect from the people. It’s pretty difficult. Although I know there is a spiritual communion every time the Eucharist is offered, I still feel a disconnect that’s tangible.”

Fr. Martins agreed. 

“As a Church, this is really traumatic for the people of God,” Fr. Martins said. “We know we have to give them something, and this is the closest we could come to giving them the Eucharist. Our churches are not open right now, but we can turn outside into a ‘church,’ at least to hear confessions.

“Above everything, we want the people of God not to feel abandoned.”

An earlier version of this article had an incorrect location for St. Scholastica Parish. It also clarifies the location of the Companions’ formation house in northwest Detroit.