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Staff photo / Bob Coupland
Bishop David Bonnar of the Diocese of Youngstown, left, speaks with Dr. John Popovec and Alberta Popovec of Boardman after the White Mass on Sunday at St. Columba Cathedral in Youngstown to recognize those in the health care field, who have been affected most by the COVID-19 pandemic.

YOUNGSTOWN — The past year has been a challenge for many people because of the coronavirus pandemic, but those in the health care field especially have faced difficulties on the front line and were recognized for what they do at the 25th annual White Mass hosted by the Diocese of Youngstown.

Led by Bishop David Bonnar on Sunday at St. Columba Cathedral, the special Mass praised the work of doctors, nurses, aides, support staff and other health care and mental health professionals.

The power was out for most of the Mass after a car hit a nearby telephone pole, but Bonnar said the lit candles in the sanctuary and the sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows “provided a sense of peace.”

“How dark it has been for many this past year during the pandemic, but we have reached for the light to guide us,” Bonnar said.

The theme of his homily was “don’t despair,” which he said is a loss of hope. He started his homily with a joke about a nun giving a homeless man outside the convent a $100 bill with a note wrapped around it that said “don’t despair.” The man returned several days later with stacks of $100 bills that he won after betting on a horse named “Don’t Despair” at the racetrack. The congregation, which included about 50 health care professionals, chuckled at the punchline.

Bonnar, however, quickly turned serious, drawing parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and two of the readings at Mass that were about people with leprosy, who had to isolate themselves because they were “unclean.”

“During the pandemic, it has been very tempting to despair. We pray fervently for all our sick brothers and sisters and also for the doctors, nurses and other health care staff who care for the sick. Health care workers take many risks to help the sick and suffering. This year stands out as a significant one that has stretched beyond belief every health care worker who has been on the front lines. They do this because they care,” Bonnar said.

Bonnar said Jesus does not want anyone to despair or to be in isolation despite their status.

“Jesus wants us to touch the untouchable, love the unloveable and forgive the unforgiveable,” he said.

Those in the health care profession were asked to stand in their pews for applause and recognition.

Deanna Ford of Poland, director of missions for Mercy Health, said, “I work for Mercy Health so this is extremely appreciated. We talk about hope all the time. We thank the Diocese for the recognition, especially for this past year.”

“We all needed this blessing he gave us for what we have faced. It was nice with all the candles being lit even when the power went out. What would we do if we did not have doctors and nurses?” Maureen Fogarty of Youngstown, a speech pathologist, said.

Dr. John Popovec and Alberta Popovec of Boardman said it has been a challenging year.

John said in his 41 years in medicine, he has never seen a year like this.

“Coming together and realizing how hard everyone has worked and made sacrifices is important. People have put in so much time and energy during the pandemic,” Alberta said.

Dr. James Kravec, chief clinical officer for Mercy Health of Youngstown, said the fact the Diocese continues to have this Mass each year shows how much it cares for the many health care workers in the community.

“This year is even more important than ever given the fact health care workers are working harder and taking care of more and more patients. It has been a challenging year, and these many heroes are out there doing wonderful work for the patients and taking care of those in their communities. It is wonderful the Diocese is celebrating them at this special Mass,” Kravec said.

Kravec said he has attended the White Mass for many years, including while he was in medical school.

He said it is encouraging so many people are getting vaccines as well as continuing to social distance and wear masks.

“I am hopeful we will be able to get back to some form of normalcy this year,” Kravec said.

He is a member of St. Christine Parish in Youngstown and was there with his wife, Dr. Cynthia Kravec, who did the readings, and their four children.

David Schmidt, director of the Diocesan Office of Pro-Life, Marriage and Family Life, said normally, a reception takes place in the parish hall after the Mass, but it was canceled because of the pandemic.

“This is the Diocese’s way of honoring health care professionals and celebrating the work that they do. Anyone in the health care professions needs an extra blessing for the work they have done and challenges thay faced this past year,” Schmidt said.

He said usually, many retired health care professionals come to the Mass, but they were unable to do so because of the pandemic. They would have watched a livestream of the service, but the power outage just before Mass changed that.

Metro editor Marly Reichert contributed to this report.

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