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231 candles lit outside North Side church — each representing 1,000 COVID-19 deaths in U.S.

“We’re prepared to add more, we don’t want to, but if we need to we have some more,” a parishioner said of the vigil, which is slated to last until Nov. 9

Volunteers from the neighborhood and from St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church set up hundreds of candles in front of the church Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. Each candle represents 1,000 who’ve died of the coronavirus.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A total of 231 candles were lit on a lawn outside a North Side Catholic church Monday — each representing 1,000 Americans killed thus far by COVID-19.

“We’re prepared to add more, we don’t want to, but if we need to we have some more,” Terese Herbig, a parishioner at St. Mary of the Lake in the Buena Park neighborhood, said of the vigil.

The candles were lit Monday, All Souls Day on the Catholic calendar, at 6:30 p.m. and were to be extinguished 12 hours later — with the ritual being repeated seven days in a row.

“We feel like we have not had really a place or a space to mourn publicly the loss of so many lives in our country to COVID-19,” said the church’s pastor, Rev. Manuel Dorantes.

“And we did not only want to remember our own family members but also the family members of our neighbors who have lost a loved one who didn’t have a chance to grieve, who didn’t have a chance to have a funeral, so we’re remembering them today in a very public way and inviting our neighbors who are not Catholic to come and pray for the people we have lost in our nation and their grieving families.”

Prayers from various religions were posted along a fence near the candles.

Dave Shapiro, 58, who’s Jewish and lives in the neighborhood, volunteered to help set up the 231 candles.

“You can’t help but be touched by what’s going on, no matter what your religion and sometimes taking a few minutes out of your day to think about that and have it be a focus and not just something you hear it on the news is a good thing to do,” he said.

Inside the church, colorful altars in the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos, had been set up to honor COVID-19 victims as well as other loved ones who’ve passed away.

“But because of COVID restrictions people can only come and pray there when we’re having services through a pre-registration system, and it gets very complicated ... this is bringing the church outside, effectively,” Dorantes said.