Help from above: Monroe pastor takes vicariate’s prayer intentions to the skies

Fr. Phil Ching, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Monroe, holds the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance aboard a two-seater plane high above the Monroe Vicariate on Palm Sunday, April 5. Fr. Ching said the flight was inspired by other priests’ similar efforts to bless their congregations in unique ways during the coronavirus pandemic. (Facebook Live screen grab)

Fr. Phil Ching, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish, flies Blessed Sacrament over county’s parishes aboard two-seater plane

MONROE — If you happened to be in Monroe County and felt a few droplets hit your face on Palm Sunday, it might not have been rain.

It could have been holy water sprinkled by Fr. Phil Ching from an airplane high above the county’s parishes.

On April 5, Fr. Ching, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Monroe, boarded a two-seater airplane near Rockwood and took to the skies with the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance, flying over each of the churches in the Monroe Vicariate to bless the area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fr. Ching admits he borrowed the idea after a friend shared a similar story about a priest taking to the skies to bless his congregation.

Fr. Phil Ching, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Monroe, and Deacon Tracy Esper lead a Eucharistic adoration service before the flight. (Facebook Live screen grab)

“Back in December, a friend shared something with us about a priest who had gone in a plane and used a crop duster to bless people with holy water,” Fr. Ching told Detroit Catholic. “And then recently, another priest (Fr. Mark Rutherford) flew the Eucharist over Lansing.”

The friend, who has a cousin with access to a plane, told Fr. Ching, “You know, Father, we could make this happen,” he said.

Fr. Ching said he also was inspired by a close priest friend, Fr. Eric Fedewa, who on Friday drove the Eucharist in a car around the city limits of Eastpointe. “After I spoke with him, I felt encouraged to do what I believe the Lord placed on my heart,” Fr. Ching said.

Fr. Ching said the donor of the plane declined to be identified for this article, but said he was extremely grateful for their generosity.

After advertising the flight on St. Michael’s Facebook page, Fr. Ching said he and a handful of people took the Eucharist in a monstrance to a site near St. Mary Parish in Rockwood. There, the priest led prayers for each of the parishes and clergy in the Monroe Vicariate while preparing the plane for takeoff.

Parishioners point and wave as the plane flies over St. Charles Borromeo Academy in Newport on Sunday, April 5. (Courtesy of Stephanie Hawkins)

“We then had a blessing of the holy water, and that was transferred into a canister with a pump we could use to spray from the plane,” Fr. Ching said.

The plane took off and completed its nearly hourlong flight over each of the 11 Catholic churches in the county, with Fr. Ching holding the Eucharist in a monstrance and speaking into a headset to those watching via Facebook Live.

As the plane approached a given church, Fr. Ching said a second passenger aboard the plane holding a video camera would communicate to him prayer intentions from those on the ground, which Fr. Ching then prayed as he spoke to those watching.

People gathered at each of the churches waved as the plane flew overhead, as Fr. Ching prayed various prayers, including the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary.”

“It was just amazing. It was a tremendous blessing,” Fr. Ching said. “They had it down to a science. I was floored at how well prepared they were.”

Fr. Ching said he had never flown in a small plane before, and wasn’t sure what to expect.

As Fr. Ching communicated to people on the ground via Facebook Live, parishioners sent their prayer requests, to which the priest was able to respond in real time. (Courtesy of Stephanie Hawkins)

“When the pilot asked me whether I had a weak stomach, I thought he was joking,” Fr. Ching laughed. “Some of the twists and turns got me a little worried, but once we were flying, it was enjoyable.”

While the experience was rewarding, Fr. Ching said the most important thing was the opportunity to pray over God’s people — literally — as the coronavirus pandemic affects people’s lives and livelihoods.

“I was praying that the Lord blesses the entire county, imploring the Precious Blood of Jesus to cover the entire vicariate in a way that would not only heal, but protect us from COVID-19,” Fr. Ching said. “We’re looking for a miracle in Jesus’ name.”

Fr. Ching added he hopes the blessing reaches those even outside the vicariate, including friends and family impacted by the pandemic.

“I’m praying that we’re all tied to one another during this time, that we’re patient with one another,” Fr. Ching said. “We’re rebuking evil in the name of Jesus, asking our Lord to protect our country.”

While not every priest is able to board an airplane with a monstrance, Fr. Ching said he knows priests across the archdiocese are thinking of bold and creative ways to keep feeding their people.

“We’ve got to keep finding ways to reach people, especially during this time,” Fr. Ching said. “People are searching for answers. They’re hungry for it. I feel so overwhelmed by the thanks that people have given me and those who helped.”