Coronavirus News: Congregations mourn more than 20 clergy lost to COVID-19

QUEENS (WABC) -- They are the people who help their congregations cop during times of loss and crisis -- and now their congregations are trying to figure out how to cope without them.

Members of the clergy are considered essential workers who know their job is to be close to people, but for some, it cost them their lives.

At St. Gabriel's Church in East Elmhurst, Queens, they pray every day for the families of the people who have died from the parish.

And now, everyone is part of the family.

Fr. Gioacchino Basile was the pastor of St. Gabriel's, a man full of love and compassion, whose vocation and his vow to fulfill it may have cost him his life.

"He wanted to be close to the people, he didn't know the virus was so close," said Fr. Miguel Angel.

Parish Secretary Jessica Roldan said he wasn't worried and told others not to worry because God was with him.

Fr. Basile is not alone. More than 20 local ministers and priests have died during the pandemic. Many of them, like Fr. Basile, were reluctant to change the way they minister to the faithful.

Pastors at St. James and the Macedonia Baptist Church in Harlem also died in recent weeks.

On Thursday, TWU Local 100 announced the death of Rev. Christopher Howard, who was the pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Jamaica.

They were shepherds doing the personal, up close ministry that is needed now more than ever -- but is suddenly so dangerous.

"We're not a virtual church, we are person to person...the danger is to move in that regard, but there's no substitute for human contact," Fr. Bob Sedlack said.

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