A Roman Catholic church in rural Louisiana hoping to maximize its blessings has come up with a way to do it: filling up a crop-duster plane with holy water and letting the sanctified liquid mist an entire community.
"We can bless more area in a shorter amount of time," Rev. Matthew Barzare of St. Anne Church in Cow Island, La., told NPR.
Following this past Saturday's mass, parishioners from the church in southwestern Louisiana headed to an airstrip about five minutes away from the church.
Churchgoers brought with them 100 gallons of water, which was loaded into the crop duster.
"I blessed it there, and we waited for the pilot to take off," Barzare said, noting that it was the largest amount of water he had ever turned holy.
"I've blessed some buckets for people and such, but never that much water," he said.
The pilot had instructions to drizzle certain parts of the community, including churches, schools, grocery stores and other community gathering places.
Word of it raining blessings spread fast in Cow Island, which Barzare points out is not really an island. But when hurricanes strike, he said, the community is typically surrounded by water, hence the name.
"They heard the plane coming first and so they had enough time to step out of their house and see it spraying," he said of the holy water falling from the sky.
The idea was first proposed by a parishioner who is studying to become a missionary who was looking for a way to spread both community togetherness and holy water across Cow Island.
And the more Barzare considered it, the more it made sense.
"Most parishes have a central location, but my area that I have to cover is a good 30 minutes to the next church, and so by plane, we realized, it might be the easiest way to sprinkle people's fields, rather than me going in a car to different locations," he said.
It was such a hit among the 200 Catholic families who attend the church that Barzare said he is going to make it an annual event, with hopes of upping the holy water haul from 100 gallons to 300, the maximum amount the plane can carry at one time.
"It does have a history for us in our Catholic faith, that the priests would bless the fields, and of course the community, around certain times of the year, especially harvest times," he said. "We call them ember days."
Since the weekend sky blessing, Barzare has heard from other churches across the country.
"Other places saw the headline and they are already trying to plan to do something, as well," he said.
Before taking off on its holy mission, the crop duster was cleaned out of pesticides. Barzare said he is confident the agricultural aircraft did not stir worry or confusion among any Cow Island residents.
"It is not the time to spray pesticides," he said." So the people from the community knew it was not spraying chemicals."