by Todd Habiger
SENECA — Look, up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s, it’s . . . well, it is a plane. But the plane flying over Nemaha County on March 29 was special. It carried two priests blessing the county with holy water right before the state of Kansas’ “stay at home” order — due to the coronavirus outbreak — went into effect.
Father Arul Carasala, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Seneca, woke up that Sunday morning and took a long hard look at his church. A statewide “stay at home” order would be going into effect at midnight. Masses, which had been canceled weeks before, wouldn’t be starting up anytime soon.
He was a pastor who physically couldn’t be with his flock.
“The whole place looked empty and dry,” Father Carasala said. “I thought, ‘The people can’t come to me, I need to go to the people.’”
So he called up a friend, parishioner Scott Heiman, who owns a plane, and asked if Heiman would be willing to take him and Father Reginald Saldanha, pastor of nearby Sacred Heart in Baileyville and St. Mary in St. Benedict, up in one of his planes later that day, so the two priests could bless the county with holy water.
Heiman thought it was a great idea. News of the blessing made its way quickly through emails, the parish website and social media.
“I thought it was a good way to connect with the people during this time of isolation and quarantine,” said Father Saldanha. “They can’t come to the church. We can’t have public celebrations. At least through this, we make them feel connected to the church.”
Father Carasala said that during this time in which parishioners can’t attend Mass because of the pandemic, people have told him the things they miss most are the Eucharist and the ability to bless themselves with holy water.
“I can’t take the Eucharist to all the people, but I can take the holy water to all of them,” he said.
At 2:30 p.m., the plane took off with a big container of holy water strapped to a seat and the two priests sprinkling the holy water out the windows on each side of the plane.
The reaction was fantastic. As the priests took to the air, families took to their yards waiting for the blessing. Some people wrote messages on their driveways. Others waited and waved. Still others sent the priests text messages as the plane came into view.
For the children of Tiffany and Stan Haug — 11-year-old Logan, 9-year-old Kendall and 3-year-old Haiden — it was an exciting time, and they wanted to do something special for their pastor, Father Carasala. A huge chalk message of “Hi Father Arul” greeted him as he flew over.
“They had a blast,” said Tiffany. “They went out there immediately. They used every piece of chalk we had in our house and then they patiently sat outside and waited for his flyover.”
Father Saldanha said the reaction reminded him of his time as a missionary priest in New Guinea.
“There were some communities that I could reach only through small planes, and I did it only twice a year,” he said. “It took me back to those memories where people would have so much eagerness and joy to see a priest.”
In all, it took Father Carasala and Father Saldanha 90 minutes to fly over and bless the entire county. “One parishioner called me and said, ‘You know, it’s like God flying over us and giving us a blessing at the time we needed it the most,’” said Father Carasala.