New York pastor says his parish lost 44 people to coronavirus

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New York pastor says his parish lost 44 people to coronavirus
The Rev. Fabian Arias presides over a funeral Mass for Raul Luis Lopez in Queens.
The Rev. Fabian Arias presides over a funeral Mass for Raul Luis Lopez in Queens.

(CNN) — Raul Luis Lopez is No. 33 on a list that keeps growing.

The 39-year-old restaurant deliveryman died last month in a New York hospital.

And at Saint Peter’s Church in Manhattan, he’s part of a devastating tally: Coronavirus Deaths from Our Parish.

The list sits on the Rev. Fabian Arias’ desk, beneath the N95 mask he plans to wear to the next funeral he’s presiding over. There are dozens of names on it, and he fears soon there will be more.

Arias and other church leaders say the pandemic has killed 44 people from their parish.

Some were active members who regularly attended Mass. Others showed up sporadically for Holy Week, family baptisms or other special events. Arias views all of them as part of his parish. And he says the death toll in their church reveals a troubling reality about the way the coronavirus pandemic is cratering immigrant communities.

Church leaders provided a copy of the list to CNN, but asked for the full names of victims not to be printed to protect their privacy. CNN spoke with several family members of those who died and confirmed about a third of the names on the list with available public records, but was unable to confirm some deaths independently.

Of the deaths in the parish that church officials have logged, Arias says the majority — nearly 90% — are Latino. And many, he says, are undocumented immigrants.

“The virus installs itself more in the most vulnerable places, and so it infects the most vulnerable people. This is the problem. The virus does not discriminate,” he says. “We are the ones who as a society are discriminating.”

Leaders say coronavirus has devastated churches across the city

St. Peter’s sits above a subway hub and attracts worshipers from New York’s five boroughs, some of whom visit the church on their ways to and from jobs as deliverymen, waiters, construction workers and cleaners.

The congregation, which recently merged with a Spanish-language church, is about 50% Latino, according to church leaders. And it isn’t the only one that’s hurting.

Bishop Paul Egensteiner, who was elected to lead the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s Metropolitan New York Synod last year, said many majority-Latino congregations in the city are being devastated by Covid-19. In some, pastors report that 25-30% of the congregation is infected, he said.

The bishop told CNN he’s angered by Americans who argue the pandemic has been overhyped.

“You have to be in a very privileged place to be able to say that,” Egensteiner said. “You either have blinders on, or it’s an acute lack of awareness of how this virus is devastating communities.”

New York’s Latino population has been hit particularly hard by coronavirus. As of May 6, more than 5,200 Latinos in New York City have died of Covid-19, a higher death toll than any other racial or ethnic group.

It’s a trend public health officials and advocates have been warning of across the country as well.

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