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Coronavirus

Filling the Void: St. Leonard priest performs Eucharistic walk in Berwyn

Father Bobby Krueger of St. Leonard Catholic Church in Berwyn does a Eucharist Walk through Berwyn on March 29 as the state-mandated stay at home order continues due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Father Bobby Krueger of St. Leonard Catholic Church in Berwyn does a Eucharist Walk through Berwyn on March 29 as the state-mandated stay at home order continues due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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BERWYN – On March 28, the Rev. Bobby Krueger announced his third Eucharistiic walk on Facebook. He shared a small photo of his route, which zigzagged through the middle of Berwyn and used local landmarks such as the historic Depot District, Top Cut Comics and MacNeal Hospital as a helpful guide.

"Sorry it took me a little longer to post my route this time. Google Maps and I were having a fight," Krueger joked in his post, ending it with a smiley face emoji.

He urged parishioners – both old and new – to wave from their window or to ring a bell "if you have one" in honor of the Lord. He also advised them to "resist the temptation to follow me," reassuring them that "we'll do a full Eucharistic procession in gratitude to God once we have made it past all this."

That single Sunday post was shared 22 times, and pulled in 47 likes and a string of comments from excited patrons – not bad for a first-time Facebook user.

Social media is a whole new world for Krueger, who preferred to live offline and to reach out to his congregation at St. Leonard Catholic Church the old-fashioned way: face to face. He had a tendency to view social media as a "substitute" for human interaction, but with the onset of the coronavirus and shelter-in-place order, it proved to be the only – and the safest – way to continue to spread the word of God.

"Up until this point, I had never uploaded a video on Youtube," Krueger said, laughing. "I don't know the lingo. I don't know the equipment. My laptop is 10 years old. My iPhone is five years old. With all this stuff, I'm like 100% behind the curve of everything."

So he turned to some of St. Leonard's members. Together, they began recording Mass in English and Spanish and made them both available online.

The Eucharist walks, however, are a little different. While Krueger quipped about his need for some light exercise and fresh air, those neighborhood strolls – some of which have totaled five miles – have become short, makeshift pilgrimages, serving as reminders of hope, faith and unity.

"There's just something that's so reassuring about seeing familiar people even in the midst of this kind of prolonged quarantine," he said of the reason behind the regular walks and the online worship services.

"What's important to me right now is that my community, my parishioners, the people that we serve here at St. Leonard a regular basis and their families and friends have a way of accessing their priest, their pastor," Krueger said, adding religious leaders like himself are being challenged to preach, celebrate and heal differently than what they're accustomed to.

He, too, joined the choir of leaders who are asking this question: "How do you fill the void that people are feeling so deeply right now?"

Even Krueger said it's been difficult to "make sense" of the pandemic, to wrap his head around the lives changed and the lives lost. In fact, when the news about the severity of COVID-19 first surfaced and Gov. JB Pritzker called for school closures, Krueger had just returned from his annual mission trip in Honduras. He spent his time in a handful of remote villages in Honduras' mountains, away from the "outside world," he said on Facebook.

"I feel as though I reentered a completely different world," he wrote in the post to the St. Leonard Church community. "Canceled Masses, social distancing, work and learn from home – I’m still catching up with all of the latest buzz words and the best practices for slowing the spread of the disease."

While Krueger urged Berwyn residents to stay informed and called for calmness, there's a passage from the Book of John that he also keeps in mind. "Jesus says, 'I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and they know me,'" he recited, seeking out that sense of comfort and compassion.

For now, for Krueger, God's word is enough to keep him going, to keep him walking, to keep him trusting and to keep him looking forward.

"What I've always discovered in every other moment of difficult things that I've encountered in my life is when God allows me to go through something that I didn't want, there's always an invitation to a greater conversion," he said. "God knows what it takes to actually draw me closer to him.

"He knows what it takes to change my heart, and sometimes, He'll allow things that for me seem really difficult. But He knows the full story, and I'm only in the chapter."

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