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Catholic Voice
December 15, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe
Temple Isaiah offers gift of Christmas
Christmas Art Contest winner
and runners-up
Holy Spirit Parish meets people
where they are in their cars

Rev. Mathew Vellankal

Need a prayer?

Holy Spirit Church in Fremont has one for you, and you don't have to get out of your car to receive it.

Father Mathew Vellankal heard about a church in Florida that offers drive-thru prayer once a week.

Then he uttered those words that change history: "We could do it here."

He developed a plan, talked about it at Mass and put it in the bulletin. He prepared materials; people signed up. Parishioners who are active in prayer groups or charismatic groups were among the first responders, he said.

"These are very prayerful people," he said, "all anxious to give something back."

Within three months, after calling for volunteers and training the more than two dozen who responded, the Drive-thru Ministry opened last month.

Drive-thru prayer

Holy Spirit Parish
37588 Fremont Blvd., Fremont
6-7 p.m. Monday-Friday
Even if you didn't count the TV news trucks, business was brisk.

In its first weeks, the prayer ministry is seeing 10 to 15 cars come through. Some of the early arrivals came out of curiosity; others seeking something more.

"People are touched by the power of God. It's so heartwarming," said Father Vellankal.

The drive-thru ministry is all part of the evangelization effort at the 5,000-family parish. In addition to the six weekend Masses, there is perpetual adoration. The 11 a.m. Sunday Mass is live streamed on the Internet.

"We are going to reach out to where the people are," Father Vellankal said.

The parish is following the call of "Our Holy Father Pope Francis to bring God to where the people are," Father Vellankal said.

People, of course, are in their cars, especially during commute hours. "We are on a central, very busy street," he said. A flagger helps direct traffic. Signs point the way.

The prayer ministers work in teams of two; there are sometimes four on site. The prayer minister approaches the car and asks what they can pray for, Father Vellakal said.

Sometimes, it is family sickness, terminal illness or loss of a job.

One car drove up with a special passenger — a 6-year-old dog that was scheduled to have surgery the next day. The Holy Spirit prayer minister prayed with the driver for the success of the surgery on the beloved family pet.

"We all touch the lives of people in many ways," Father Vellankal said.

Some people who drive up and request prayer are not Catholic, he said. The drive-thru lane offers the parish the opportunity, he said, to "bring God to those who don't otherwise come to our campus."

Visitors leave with a prayer card, with the prayer of St. Francis on one side, and the Mass times on the other, in hopes they might return.

"If the prayer is answered, they will come back," Father Vellankal said.

Since the ministry began, others, including a teacher, have asked to join the trained prayer ministers.

"When you give, they are the ones who are receiving more," he said.

"Most of us Catholics are not used to spontaneous prayer," said Father Vellankal. In training the prayer ministers, he had them practice with dear ones at home.

They need to be able to say "something from their hearts" when the prayer is requested.

"They're learning and growing in faith and prayer," he said. And they will never be at a loss again when called upon to provide an opening prayer at any meeting they attend.

Drive-thru prayer, Father Vellankal said, is just part of the parish's evangelization efforts.

Another is the live streaming of the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass, which can bring the liturgy to the homebound, and can arrange to receive communion.

Perhaps as many as five dozen screens are tuned into the Mass, but those numbers can't tell if the Mass is being watched by one person, or screened for many residents, such as in a nursing home environment.

"We are doing everything possible to be welcoming and hospitable," Father Vellankal said, which includes addressing what can be one of the most challenging parts of Sunday morning at any church: the parking lot.

In a parish with about 5,000 people coming to weekend Masses, parking has become more problematic, even on a large site such as Holy Spirit's. A baseball field, farther away, has been made available for Sunday parking.

Another way the parish seeks to be more welcoming and live up to its mission to "Be Spirit-filled and make disciples" is to extend hospitality.

"We want people to shake hands three times before they are seated," Father Vellankal said. Those three contacts are the parking lot attendant, the greeter at the church entrance and the usher.

Visitors to the church are asked to stand at the end of Mass. They are given a Holy Spirit medal on a string.

The parish is starting a Kids Zone at some of its Sunday Masses to provide care for young children so their parents are freer to worship.

"We are growing and making disciples," Father Vellankal said.

The outreach extends to their neighbors in need. The parish offers a Saturday brunch one Saturday a month to about 50 to 70 guests. Those numbers may grow soon.

"In the new year, we will feed the hungry a warm, hot meal every Saturday." Father Vellankal said. The brunch will be served at 10:30 a.m.

"We're doing everything possible to bring people closer to God," Father Vellankal said.

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