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NEW YORK – Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn are making plans for Catholics to return to mass and the sacraments in a way that cares for both the “physical and spiritual health of our faithful.”
During a joint press conference held on May 21 at the Church of Our Savior in Manhattan, the leaders of the two dioceses said that religious ceremonies are “essential services for the spiritual well-being of people.”
The New York Cardinal applauded area Catholics for their “continued loyalty to the very wise restrictions of our respected health professionals and elected officials,” but said it was time to make plans for a gradual return to adjusted normalcy.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s current “NY Forward” program, which outlines the steps necessary to reopen the state, does not include a process on how houses of worship can reopen their doors. In response, the archdiocese has proposed a five-phase plan, titled “Advancement of Faith,” which outlines several stages to precede the eventual full resumption of Masses and Sacraments.
Msgr. DiMarzio said the Diocese of Brooklyn will launch a similar plan in the coming days, overseen by Joe Esposito, a former New York City Commissioner of Emergency Management and a parishioner for the diocese.
Phase one of the Archdiocese of New York plan begins with the opening of churches for private prayers and confessions, followed by a phase that allows limited baptisms and marriages of 10 attendees. Phase Three will allow communion to be distributed outside of Mass, followed by a phase that allows daily Masses and funeral Masses with limited attendance, and the eventual final phase will include the celebration of Sunday Mass with supervised protocols.
Cardinal Dolan said he anticipates a period of one to two weeks between each stage.
Specific plans outlined for returning to services include regular sanitation and disinfection of churches, prohibition of physical contact, separate seating for individuals, couples and families, emptying of holy water and baptismal fonts, installation of hand sanitizers at church entrances and the temporary cessation of all nonessential gatherings, such as coffee hours or groups of children.
Attendance at each individual Mass will be limited to no more than 25 percent of the capacity of a church. The archdiocese noted that the proposed plan follows the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Control (CDC), while “at the same time respecting our traditions.”
Meanwhile, the obligation to attend Sunday mass is suspended until further notice and those who feel ill are asked not to attend services.
During the press conference on May 21, Bishop DiMarzio said that Church leaders have been “cautious not to start services early and recklessly”, when it could negatively affect the health of those who attend religious services.
Both Cardinal Dolan and Bishop DiMarzio said the reopening will look different “region by region, parish by parish,” noting that parishes in upstate New York counties suffragan to the Archdiocese of New York may reopen at a faster rate than most urban parishes.
“Our faithful have behaved in a commendable manner,” Cardinal Dolan said, referring to the response after the restrictions of masses and public sacraments since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of churches in mid-March.
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in the New York region, our churches have been closed to public worship,” says the document that outlines the guidelines for the official “Advance of Faith” plan. “This was, in fact, a sad but necessary step to ensure the well-being and safety of our parishioners and local communities. And it has worked. ”
Although he did not commit to an exact date to return to Sunday Masses, the cardinal said he believed a six-week term “is a reasonable time.”
“We are not going to get ahead of things,” added Mgr. DiMarzio. “We will be cautious, but at the same time we will push as much as possible.”