The Associated Press
Created: April 16, 2020 10:58 AM
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — The Las Cruces Diocese has lifted a ban on the public celebration of Mass, reversing a mandate to suspend most parish events to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The Catholic News Agency said Bishop Peter Baldacchino is the first in the U.S. to amend the diocesan ban on public Masses, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported Wednesday.
The diocese, which covers southern New Mexico, is encouraging parishes to celebrate Mass outdoors in parking lots and to continue streaming celebrations online, which many have been doing since the ban was announced March 16.
The diocese’s priests have been advised to set up altars in parking lots so parishioners can remain in their vehicles, similar to how some parishes celebrated Mass during Holy Week, which ended Easter Sunday.
Parishes who choose to hold Mass indoors will be allowed to have five or fewer people inside while parishioners maintain at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) of space from each other.
Priests are also allowed to continue other ceremonies such as weddings and funerals under the provision, but are still required to follow state and federal regulations.
“In the midst of financial uncertainty, fear for one’s health, pandemic induced anxiety and confinement to their homes, people need a word of hope and our Church offers the essential hope,” the Las Cruces Diocese said in a statement, adding that the decision was made after media reports of an increase in divorces, drug use and alcohol abuse in the last month.
Baldacchino is the first to “open the doors again,” diocese spokesman Christopher Velasquez said. “We want to keep that option open for people that have that yearning.”
Diocese officials have urged anyone feeling sick or at risk of contracting COVID-19 to remain home and view the live online stream of services.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
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