Each Easter season, Fr. Russ Arnett, pastor of St. Francis Xavier, Brighton; St. Mary, Dover; St. John the Baptist, Paris; and St. Robert Bellarmine, Union Grove; ensures that each of his four parishes are beautifully decorated with flowers and other accoutrements to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. However, this year, when the parish Arts and Environment Committee went to place their usual Easter flower order, he was stunned to learn that they had to cut their order by 75 percent since there would be no public Masses in the parishes.

Fr. Russ Arnett set up outdoor shrines for Easter at the four parishes in Kenosha and Racine counties that he is pastor of. (Submitted photo)

“I was saddened to think about the number of people that couldn’t do what they normally did and felt it was such a great loss,” he said. “Lent is less essentially, and we have no decorations. So, when you drive by a church at Easter and don’t see any outward expressions of the resurrection it is very sad to me. The idea of people driving by the church and having it look like any other day didn’t seem right to me.”

After consulting with staff members, Fr. Arnett decided to have a shrine at each parish so parishioners could drive by or stop and pray while still practicing appropriate social distancing. A close friend of his built the frames and members of the Art and Environment committees decorated them. Each 6-foot-high shrine was decorated and had an image of the resurrected Jesus on the front. While Fr. Arnett initially thought of using church statuary in the shrines, he opted instead to use the images of the resurrected Christ.

“I found the image of the resurrection and a parishioner who does signage printed them up for me on plastic as I didn’t want the statues in the elements,” he said. “We put them up right in front of the church and left them up for the whole octave. People were stopping by on and off all week.”

The parishioners were grateful for the Easter shrines and it offered them a reason to get out of the house, pray and feel connected to the parish, as well as experience some Easter joy, said Fr. Arnett. While he has been livestreaming all of the Masses, members were desiring to find a way to connect with their spiritual home in a tangible way during this high season of the Church.

“It felt like this was a good witness to the community for all those who drove by and saw the shrines out there,” said Fr. Arnett, adding, “The images were beautifully done and caught the attention of passersby. We had a lot of positive comments on our KR Catholics Facebook page. I think the community was really grateful to be able to come by and see these shrines.”

The portable shrines were so popular that Fr. Arnett plans to use them again next year.

“Another genesis of this is these four parishes did such a spectacular job of art and environment for Christmas and we had a nice pilgrimage with each parish open one evening after Christmas with a talk at the final one. It went over pretty well, but this is more accessible since it is not winter; so I envision some sort of Easter pilgrimage,” he said. “We are already collecting images for the next year and plan to have a different one at each parish; I will encourage people to make a pilgrimage to each shrine and they can bring their own flowers and bouquets if they wish.”