New Mexico dioceses take different approach to public Mass

Coronavirus

The doors at San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church in the Old Town historic district of Albuquerque, New Mexico, remain closed Thursday, April 9, 2020. The Archdiocese of Santa Fe is urging parishioners to stay home during Holy Week as state public health orders prompted by the coronavirus outbreak limit gatherings and social contact. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — The Archdiocese of Santa Fe will not follow another New Mexico diocese’s lead to lift the ban on in-person public Masses and instead will continue to celebrate services without physical participation, Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester said.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham puts on her face mask when not speaking during an update on the COVID-19 outbreak in the state during a news conference in the state Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M., Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, Pool)

Wester said late Thursday he is asking Catholics in his diocese to “stay the course” and abide by social distancing restrictions urged by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to stop the spread of the coronavirus — a move that differs from the stance taken by the Las Cruces Diocese in southern New Mexico.

Parishes within the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in central and northern New Mexico will continue to ban people from attending Mass and instead will encourage Catholics to watch live-stream services, Wester said.

“We encourage all people of goodwill to join us in keeping families safe,” the Santa Fe Archdiocese said in a statement. “Stay home, practice social distancing. Together we can save lives.”

The announcement comes a day after the Las Cruces Diocese announced it will reopen churches and allow no more than five people to attend inside Masses in what the Catholic News Agency said was the first move allowing public services after a church-declared U.S. ban on public services.

Priests were encouraged to celebrate public Mass at Las Cruces Diocese parishes while having parishioners abide by social distancing restrictions ordered by Lujan Grisham, Las Cruces Diocese spokesman Christopher Velasquez said.

The five or fewer people inside churches that celebrate Mass with must stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart, Velasquez said.

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.

The Las Cruces Diocese oversees parishes in southern New Mexico, along the U.S.-Mexico border and near El Paso, Texas.

In this March 19, 2014, file photo, then-Auxiliary bishop-elect Peter Baldacchino, front, waves after his Ordination Mass at St. Mary Cathedral in North Miami, Fla. Baldacchino, who is now a bishop in Las Cruces, N.M. announced Wednesday, April, 15, 2020, that the Las Cruces Diocese would “reopen” churches and lift the ban on public celebrations of Mass, a move believed to be a first by a diocese in the U.S. amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Roberto Koltun/El Nuevo Herald via AP, File)

Las Cruces Bishop Peter Baldacchino made the decision about the limited opening of churches after hearing news reports about the spread of COVID-19 in southern New Mexico, Velasquez said.

The Catholic News Agency reported that Baldacchino was the first Catholic leader in the nation to modify a nationwide ban on public Masses.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops shared steps with members that could be taken in response to the outbreak. Since then, bishops across the U.S. moved to cancel in-person Mass services, closed schools and halted Easter pilgrimages.

States also have imposed restrictions on social gatherings involving places of worship.

Wester urged Catholic pilgrims this month not to visit El Santuario de Chimayo and Tome Hill during Holy Week.

El Santuario de Chimayo in northern New Mexico is known as the “Lourdes of America” because its healing sand is believed to possesses the power to cure illness. Tome Hill is a hilltop shrine in central New Mexico.

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