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Detroit priest uses squirt gun to spray holy water on parishioners as they socially distance

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A priest's unorthodox way of administering holy water to his parishioners who are social distancing has become a sensation online. Photos showing Father Timothy R. Pelc of the St. Ambrose Parish in Detroit spraying holy water with a squirt gun have recently gone viral.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the parish posted photos showing how it's navigating events involving holy water, which for Roman Catholics is a way to purify a person or object. However, it was Pelc's plastic gun that made everyone's day. 

"Adapting to the need for social distancing, St. Ambrose continued it's tradition of Blessing of Easter Food Baskets, drive-thru style. Yes, that's Fr. Tim using a squirt gun full of Holy Water!" the caption read. 

Blessing of the Easter Foods, April 11, 2020 Adapting to the need for social distancing, St. Ambrose continued it's...

Posted by St. Ambrose Parish on Sunday, April 12, 2020

Standing a few feet away from vehicles, Pelc was wearing a mask that covered his entire face and included a see-through screen on Easter weekend. He's seen spraying the squirt gun at his parishioners and food baskets. 

Pelc told CBS News that he wanted to do something cool for the children for Easter, and the water gun idea was approved and embraced by a friend who is an emergency room doctor in Detroit. 

"The squirt gun allowed the dose without any cross contamination," he said, adding that branches and sprinklers were also considered. "He kinda encouraged me to take the risk."  

Underneath the original post, people as far as Austria commented on the photos. The idea also became a hit on Twitter.

Even his parish got in on the action, posting a meme showing an altered movie poster from the 1966 classic "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

Pelc and his parish have also tied more than 3,000 ribbons to tree branches in memory of Michiganders who have died from the virus. 

On March 21, 2020 we began to tie ribbons to our plaza trees as a memorial to our fellow Michiganders who lost their...

Posted by St. Ambrose Parish on Sunday, April 12, 2020

Pelc told CBS News that he didn't have enough ribbons to start but a parishioner at the church had some in her home. As the death toll grew, the undertaking became more difficult and Pelc had the "sad" realization that they were "gonna need more trees."

Since the coronavirus outbreak hit the U.S., churches nationwide have closed to help stop the spread of the virus. And it's been a time to adapt, Pelc explained, beginning with holding masses online. 

"We had 2,500 people watch so that tells you we can't put toothpaste back in the tube," he said. "It's a new way to do our job. This squirt gun is part of it." 

However, he lamented the difficulty of seeing people smile or sing because they're wearing masks, and the fact that choirs had to be eliminated. 

"Hope this a momentary period in history," he told CBS News. "Hope this isn't our new normal."

As Rome begins to reopen its churches, and states across the U.S. start easing stay-at-home restrictions, Catholic dioceses are beginning to release guidelines for moving forward, including the Archdiocese of Detroit

"We're returning to something this coming weekend and I have baptisms the following week and I do not intend to use the squirt gun," he told CBS News. "I've retired it because I've enjoyed it so much." 

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