Two churches lose over 100 congregants to COVID-19

Two churches serving the Latino community in New York are mourning the deaths of over 100 congregants combined to COVID-19.

A Lutheran church in Manhattan lost nearly 40 members to the virus among the 400 congregants. Saint Peter's Church in midtown Manhattan serves Hispanic immigrants across the city. 

The Saint Bartholomew Catholic Church in Queens has lost more than 63 parishioners. Church pastor Rev. Rick Beuther fears that the death toll among his congregation could be dozens more. The church would normally be packed with 5,500 people attending Masses.

"The last eight, 10 weeks has been a real tsunami, a disaster for us here, between sickness, death, unemployment and just lack of services for the undocumented," Beuther told Fox News

Many members from both congregations reportedly live in crowded apartments, making isolation and social distancing difficult, thus putting them at greater risk of being exposed to the virus. 

"It brought a lot of stress," Beuther said. "Anyone who was coughing or sneezing in an apartment, they'd be afraid that the rest of the group would ask them to leave."

Both churches are actively serving parishioners in need with food assistance programs. 

Rev. Fabi├ín Arias said, "It's very hard for our community. For all Latinos, when our people die, they receive a blessing. We say the last goodbye and pray together. It's very important for us."

According to regional Lutheran bishop Paul Egensteiner, the challenge at Saint Peter's church is severe due to the large numbers of undocumented immigrants. "Many of them are reluctant to go to the hospital, wondering will they get treated, will they get deported," he said.

The Rev. Arias has conducted funerals for the victims and continues to conduct online services from his home in the Bronx while Saint Peter's church building remains closed. Some congregants wish to resume in-person serices but he says it is too soon and too dangerous. "It's not what God would want," he said. "God wants to protect life."