Monday afternoon, Bishop Mark J. Seitz released an open letter to the faithful of the region, letting them know that churches would ‘hold steady’ on Phase II of the diocese’s reopening plan.
The Bishop cited the rise of COVID-19 cases throughout the region as his main reason for the pause. Below is the Bishop’s letter.
As most of you are aware we are witnessing a steep rise here in El Paso in the spread of COVID 19 in our community. We are currently seeing more daily positive test results and considerably more hospitalizations in El Paso County than in the entire State of New Mexico.
This past Wednesday I decided that we as a Diocese would hold steady at Phase II of our reopening plan. Phase II allows for private visits to the churches, the offering of regular times for Confessions, the celebration of daily Masses, Monday through Saturday at 25% capacity or less. Under this phase arrangements for the celebration of Baptisms, Confirmations, First Communions, Quinceañeras and Funeral Masses at 25% capacity were permitted.
At the end of last week the Governor, concerned about the growth of the presence of the virus in our communities, dialed back protocols for the State. Now, masks are required whenever a person is out in public in the presence of others outside their household. Also, gatherings of more than 10 indoors or outdoors are prohibited.
I recognize that the Church is exempt from these legal restrictions, but at the same time we in the Church know that we have a responsibility to be concerned about doing our part as good Christians and good citizens to contribute to bringing down the dangerous trends we are witnessing, which, if they continue will overwhelm our hospital systems and place our first responders and medical providers at great risk.
Last week, in speaking to our clergy and administrators, I observed that we have in place safe protocols, which, if practiced consistently, should keep those who gather at our churches safe. However, listening to some of our pastors, I am becoming aware that in certain rites safe practices are not prevailing and their guidance is often being ignored. The primary occasions in which this is taking place are at Funeral Masses, at Funeral Homes and at Weddings.
For this reason, I am now finding it necessary to prohibit the celebration of Weddings, Funeral Masses, as well as Word Services or Rosaries led by Church personnel at Funeral Homes. We will continue to permit gatherings at gravesides with 10 people or less, with the use of masks and following social distancing requirements. This directive will come into effect on Thursday, July 9th.
I regret the inconvenience that these restrictions will cause, but our priority must be the wellbeing of all our members. Wedding Masses and Quinceañeras will need to be postponed until such time as the virus is not so prevalent. Memorial Masses for the deceased will also be arranged at that time.
As we have said in the past, I leave it to the good judgement of pastors and administrators if they choose in their individual parish settings be more restrictive than what is permitted in these guidelines. That is their responsibility at the parish level in response to the differing situations of each community. Diocesan protocols necessarily place forward the least restrictive options presently allowed in our diocese.
At this time, I ask all the faithful of the Diocese to continue to build up the Domestic Church of your home. Continue to support one another and show your love by your prayers and your consistently safe practices. Special concern for those who are over 60 or whose health is compromised is particularly important. Please also do your best to be supportive to your pastor or administrator and your entire Catholic Community.
We do know that our God is with us every step of the way through these difficult times. Listen to Jesus inviting you as in this Sunday’s Gospel to, “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will refresh you.” (Matt. 11: 28) Like everything in this world, “This too will pass away.” This time when the novel corona virus seems to have the upper hand will pass. We must continue this fight for a time and one day we will tell the stories of how we overcame these trials. We will praise God for the way we were guided through and for how much we grew in our Faith during those days.
May God Bless you!
Most Rev. Mark J. Seitz, DD
Bishop of El Paso