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Catholic Relief Services: Don’t forget migrants, refugees amid pandemic

Sat, 04/18/2020 - 14:42

Baltimore, Md., Apr 18, 2020 / 12:42 pm (CNA).- Catholic Relief Services has called for additional protections for migrants, refugees and homeless populations as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

“The conditions so many men, women and children find themselves in after being displaced from their homes could mean this virus spreading like wildfire through shelters and camps, claiming many more lives and putting many more at risk,” warned Jennifer Poidatz, vice president of humanitarian response for Catholic Relief Services.

The more than 70 million people displaced from their homes globally already constituted a crisis, said Catholic Relief Services in an April 16 statement. More than half of Syria’s population of 22 million have fled their homes since the country’s civil war began nearly a decade ago. Yemen has seen more than 3 million people displaced. Millions more have fled violence, instability, and destruction from natural disasters in Iraq, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Venezuela and other countries around the world.

But the eruption of the coronavirus pandemic in recent months means greater risks for an already vulnerable population, Poidatz said. Refugee camps and immigrant detention centers present additional challenges for fighting the spread of the virus, as social distancing and hygiene practices in these crowded settings can be difficult to achieve.

People in these precarious living situations “are at greater risk for disease in normal time,” she said, and during a pandemic, they need additional protection.

“They often lack even the most basic of necessities, including clean water, food and proper sanitation.”

In recent months, more than 2 million people globally have been infected with the highly contagious novel coronavirus, which is asymptotic or causes mild symptoms in most cases, but can be severe or deadly, particularly in the elderly or those with underlying health conditions.

Growing concerns over homeless and refugee populations have led to calls for increased efforts to ensure housing, food, sanitation and hygiene supplies for these individuals, as well as protective equipment and tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

In the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says it “has released nearly 700 individuals after evaluating their immigration history, criminal record, potential threat to public safety, flight risk, and national security concerns.”

The agency also says it is taking additional measures in detention centers to ensure social distancing, decreasing time in communal areas and quarantining those who are sick.

Some 32,000 immigrants are being held in immigrant detention centers across the country. The centers have reported about 90 confirmed COVID-19 cases among detainees, and almost two dozen cases among workers, according to NPR.

Officials at Ellwangen refugee camp in southern Germany reported that nearly half of the 600 residents there have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the EU Observer.

Catholic Relief Services warned that “COVID-19 can cause massive disruptions to the livelihoods, safety and social cohesion of people in extremely tenuous circumstances – threatening their already limited access to shelter, food, education and ability to work.”

The agency is working with its partners in more than 30 countries to fight the spread of COVID-19, including in already vulnerable communities.

“CRS teams are racing against the clock to design triage centers for health facilities and temporary centers for isolation,” Poidatz said. “We are also looking at modifications to shelters to allow spaces for quarantine where possible.”


St. Camillus de Lellis: Patron saint of hospitals, nurses, and the sick

Sat, 04/18/2020 - 14:00

Denver, Colo., Apr 18, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- St. Camillus de Lellis turned from a life as a soldier and gambler to become a priest and the founder of an order dedicated to caring for the sick. He is the patron saint of hospitals, nurses, and the sick.

The order he founded in 1585 continues to minister to the sick to this day, operating large hospitals in major cities, mobile clinics in some of the most remote and inhospitable places on earth, and ministering to those affected by man-made and natural disasters worldwide.

St. Camillus was born during 1550 in the Abruzzo region of Naples in present-day Italy.

His mother died when he was 13, and following in the footsteps of his father Giovanni de Lellis, an army captain, Camillus joined the army and fought in various wars throughout the Italian peninsula until 1574. He distinguished himself with his violent temper and reckless habits.

Camillus contracted a wound in his leg that would define him for the rest of his life.

Sources disagree on exactly how and when he was wounded: the Camillans say he was hurt during a military engagement, and the wound became infected. Other sources say it was caused by an illness.

Regardless, the injury— which never fully healed— would change the course of his life. He entered St. Giacomo hospital for treatment, but was eventually turned out of the hospital because of his quarrelsome attitude- he picked fights often, and with anyone.

After his father died, Camillus’ gambling problem worsened. By the time he was 24, he had gambled away everything he had.

Humbled and penniless, he took a job working as a laborer at a Capuchin friary. It was there, in 1575, that he heard one day a sermon preached by one of the Franciscans— possibly along with a one-on-one spiritual conversation with the priest— that moved him to conversion.

He tried to enter the Capuchin novitiate three times, but each time the wound in his leg, coupled with his lack of education, forced him to leave.

He went to Rome and entered the hospital of St. Giacomo, and met St. Phillip Neri, who would become his confessor. Camillus had no way to pay for his hospital stay, so he began ministering to the sick and dying. Through his persistent work, Camillus eventually became superintendent of the hospital.

While at the hospital, he was studying with the Jesuits, and though he still occasionally gambled and fought, he eventually completed his studies for the priesthood and was ordained at age 34, in 1584.

Motivated by his work in the hospital, Father Camillus assembled a group of Catholic religious and lay followers to help tend to the needs of suffering patients, calling his group the “Servants of the Sick.”

The Servants would be summoned to hospitals, and to prisons and private houses, to tend to the needs of the sick and dying.

In 1586, Pope Sixtus V approved Camillus’ group, and in 1591 Pope Gregory XIV confirmed the Servants of the Sick— with the name changed to the ‘Order of the Ministers of the Infirm’— as a religious order. Members of the order wear a red cross on their black cassocks and capes, which Camillus reportedly said was to “frighten the devil.”

In addition to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, members of the order take a vow of unfailing service to the sick, even at risk to their own lives. The order, today made up of priests and brothers, is often known simply as the “Camillans.”

Two congregations of the Camillans for women were created in the 19th century, and secular institutes were established in the 20th century.

Camillus himself was totally devoted to the poor and sick, and though he himself was very ill, he would spend time with the sick even while unable to walk, by crawling from bed to bed to see if the other patients needed help. Upon learning that he himself was incurably ill, Camillus responded: “I rejoice in what has been told me. We shall go into the house of the Lord.” 

Upon receiving the Eucharist one last time, he said: “O Lord, I confess that I am the most wretched of sinners, most undeserving of thy favor; but save me by thy infinite goodness. My hope is placed in thy divine mercy by thy precious blood.”

Camillus died on July 14, 1614. Benedict XIV canonized him in 1746, and in 1886, Leo XIII proclaimed him patron of all hospitals and of the sick.

Pius XI later named him— along with Saint John of God— one of the two main co-patrons of nurses and nursing associations in 1930.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint, is celebrated on July 14 in the United States, thus St. Camillus’ feast day is celebrated on July 18 in the US.

Pope Francis met with men and women religious from the Camillian Charismatic Family in March 2019. He praised those present for their work of “loving and generous donation to the sick, carrying out a precious mission, in the Church and in society, alongside the suffering.”

Through fidelity to their founder, and by listening to and accompanying those experiencing poverty and suffering today, the pope said, the Camillians “will know how to make light shine, always new, on the gift received; and many young people the world over will be able to feel attracted by and to join with you, to continue to bear witness to God’s tenderness.”


Amid coronavirus, Catholic psychologists provide a frame for suicide prevention

Sat, 04/18/2020 - 08:01

Denver, Colo., Apr 18, 2020 / 06:01 am (CNA).- As health experts predict an increase in suicidal tendencies amid the coronavirus, Catholic professionals have outlined how to seek help and to be aware of those inclined to self-harm.

Dr. Melinda Moore, a licensed psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University, said there are many factors that contribute to suicide ideation but it is behavior that arises when people cannot manage distress, particularly anxious situations such as a pandemic.

“When you are in an extraordinary situation, such as the one we are in now with the COVID-19 pandemic, with quarantining, isolating from others you normally are with at school, work, et cetera, getting out of your routines, it can be extremely stressful,” she told CNA.

“The anxiety created by the current situation can definitely spur on circumstances where people cannot cope effectively.”

An opinion piece in Scientific American suggested the pandemic has likely contributed to two suicides already - K. Balakrishna, a 50-year-old Indian father-of-three, and Emily Owen, a 19-year-old waitress in England.

After obsessing over the coronavirus videos, Balakrinshna convinced himself that he contracted the illness. Afraid he would infect his family, he distanced himself from all his relatives, despite evidence that he did not have the illness, and hung himself at a local graveyard.

Owen also committed suicide, but not because she believed she contracted the disease. Instead, the young woman was afraid of the lockdown and the isolation that would follow, noting that she could not handle “her world closing in, plans being canceled and being stuck inside,” the Sun reported.

Moore said roommates and family members should pay close attention to their loved ones who are acting oddly, especially if they have a history of suicidal thoughts. She highlighted some of the biggest signs associated with suicidal tendencies which may or may not be communicated directly.

She pointed to evidence such as abusing substances, lacking sleep or sleeping too often, withdrawing from friends and family, giving away prized possessions, and acting recklessly. She said these are often coupled by emotional states of anxiety, hopelessness, purposelessness, and uncontrolled anger. She urged people to pay particular attention to suicidal threats and pursuits of lethal means, like pills or firearms.

If suicide is being considered, she said it is important that families or friends ask their loved one’s questions about suicide and take steps at home, including reducing access to dangerous medication, alcohol, and firearms. She underlined already available resources, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Dr. Christina Lynch, a supervising psychologist for Denver’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, told CNA that families should seek clarification from those suspected of suicidal ideation - identifying how strongly they have control over their pain, if they have access to lethal means, what are their barriers against seeking help, and be aware of emotional reactions of peace and calm regarding their wish to die.

The coronavirus crisis further exasperates despondency and hopelessness, she said, emphasizing the importance of having someone to talk to, whether that is a priest, counselor, teacher, or friend. She said in some cases a person may need to call 911 for another individual.

“The greatest stressor for people in difficult especially crisis situations is loss of hope and then despair. They may feel that they are alone, no one would understand their situation, and there is no solution in sight. In these times it is crucial to seek help and talk to a trusted friend,” she said.

Beverly Tauke, the board vice-chair for the Catholic Social Workers National Association, has been a therapist for Cornerstone Family Counseling since 1996. While the pandemic may aggravate suicide factors, she said, it is important to develop a self-care plan that incorporates mind, body, spirit, and relationships.

“COVID-19 circumstances can easily exacerbate such additional suicide-relevant factors as depression, anxiety and anger; alcoholism and substance abuse; loss of pleasure or interest in life and activities; social isolation; work and finance related problems; family stress; physical illness; and sleep disruption,” she told CNA.

She said that as an initial step, a person should simplify and organize the process, like developing a 31-day chart to prepare. As part of the process, she said, the person should focus on managing one’s mind by engaging in personal challenges and expressions of gratitude. She said this should be coupled with consistent physical activity, like walks or exercise routines.

“Gratitude can be noted in a mental or written journal or in notes, texts, e-mails or phone calls to people - which at times lifts them from their own sad, isolated or under-valued states,” she said.

“Use your mind positively and constructively to help diminish and extinguish negative, self-defeating obsessions,” she said, noting that an individual may consider “a free online course; experimenting with an interesting recipe; using online guides for a home-improvement project.”

She emphasized the value of spirituality and relationships, including acts of charity. She said meditation, such as reflection on scripture and on Christ, can influence a person’s emotional state. She said a person should engage with others in games and conversation, but also in charity, which will instigate a“helper’s high,” and forgiveness, which helps relinquish resentment.

“Those struggling with great personal and family pain, scary life circumstances, panic attacks and depression have reported swift relief through faith-centric daily meditation – progress confirmed by sometimes astonished colleagues and family members,” she said.

“Forgiveness, relinquishing resentment of those who have offended or wounded you – even gravely...Research shows this triggers striking physical, health, emotional and relationship upgrades - easing anxiety and depression while boosting autonomy, self-sufficiency and relationship stability.”

While most western countries have been in quarantine for the last month, the exact impact of the pandemic on suicide has yet to be determined, Moore said. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has reported no surge in call volume, but the national Crisis Text Line and the Disaster Distress Helpline have seen an increase, she added.

“It is possible that people will have very different reactions to this time of crisis. Some may become distressed and suicidal. What we know from previous, large-scale disasters, whether sudden and traumatic, such as 9/11, natural, or environmental, are almost always accompanied by increases in depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance use disorder, domestic violence, and child abuse,” she said.

“[However,] George Bonanno’s research in the aftermath of 9/11 also told us that people were far more resilient than we gave them credit for being. In a study six months after 9/11, he found that people were functioning well and were more resilient than expected.”

Since the pandemic has struck, she said her colleagues and her have switched over to telehealth and telepsychology. She said it has been a valuable experience in providing Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality.

“We are addressing both issues of risk of suicide as well as the issue of geographic boundaries and ‘distancing’ in order to treat people who might otherwise be alone in their despair and unable to get treatment in this current environment where clinicians are not seeing patients face-to-face.”

While this is an obviously difficult time, she said, this pandemic is also an opportunity to embrace personal reflection, resolve issues within the household, and rediscover lost intimacies. She said it has also been a time when people have stepped up in solidarity, donating time and money to those in a considerable struggle.

“Many grief and bereavement experts believe that this may be a time of great personal growth for individuals who are having to spend time with themselves and think deeply about issues of great importance to them. … It is also possible that people will use the distress that they are feeling and that others are feeling in order to derive some meaning or some benefit for others who are struggling.”

How Catholic schools scrambled to meet technology needs for distance learning

Fri, 04/17/2020 - 19:12

Denver, Colo., Apr 17, 2020 / 05:12 pm (CNA).- It has been one month since most schools across the US closed their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The solution to shuttered schools may seem simple, on the surface: move curriculum and teachers online. Teach classes on Zoom videos, assign and receive homework through Google Classroom, and send communications and grades via email or an online school portal.

But what happens when students, sent home to learn from their bedrooms or kitchen tables, do not have access to the internet at their house? Or when the whole family is studying or working from home, and the one computer in the household is needed by multiple people at once?

These are the questions Catholic schools have grappled with after the coronavirus forced the shutdown of schools across the nation, many of them for the rest of the school year.

The Archdiocese of Denver made the decision to close its schools on the night of Thursday, March 12. The following Friday had already been a planned day off for students and a working day for teachers, which was to the schools’ advantage as they figured out how to shift completely to distance learning.

“All Thursday night we figured out, okay, what would have to be true to make distance learning successful in the next two weeks?” Abriana Chilelli, director of curriculum and instruction for the Denver archdiocese, told CNA.

“Certainly, technology rose to the top, but also that children had internet access, that schools were able to get devices out to students. So we put together a think sheet, if you will, about a school capability of distance learning,” she said.

Originally, Chilelli said, the Catholic school system was planning for a two-week closure, but with the thought that it could be extended in a more long-term way. During those two weeks, Chilelli said, some teachers “chose the paper-based route,” sending home packets of two weeks worth of materials with students.

During those initial two weeks, schools worked to get in touch with every family to evaluate their technology and internet needs for a longer-term closure.

“We realized...that we were short about 500 devices for students and 50 for teachers, plus 200 hotspots,” said Carol Nesbitt, the director of schools marketing and communications for the Archdiocese of Denver. These were the numbers after the archdiocese’s schools had already lent out whatever extra laptops and devices they had on hand.

“I heard of a student up in Glenwood Springs at St. Stephen's school. The principal said he was trying to use his mom's burner cell phone to get his assignments,” Nesbitt told CNA.

“We've heard from other principals who have said that (student’s families) have five people in one house, and mom and dad are both trying to work from home and they have one computer. So the kids can't get on their Zoom call because mom has a call with her boss and different things,” she said.

The shortage was why the office of schools sent out two emails, asking Denver Catholics to contribute to an emergency relief fund. So far, Nesbitt said, the fund has received $220,000 in donations, “which I think is incredible.”

It’s enough to start buying more computers and distributing them to families on a lending basis, Nesbitt said.

“The first 50 came yesterday...and we delivered to three schools right away, and the rest are coming in over the next few days. And we'll turn those around as quickly as possible,” she said. “(It’s) all hands on deck to try to deliver those, of course, using social distancing measures,” she said. Families have also been able to pick up supplies from schools.

Chilelli said that she thinks when it came to setting up long-term distance learning, Catholic schools were at an advantage because of their smaller sizes.

“I'm watching these large districts that, still a month later, don't have contact with such huge percentages of their students. So I just think it's a huge advantage of Catholic schools that we're smaller, we can be more nimble and we have this one-on-one relationship with all of our families,” she said.

Dr. Brooke C. Tesche is the chancellor of education for the Diocese of Allentown, which has already announced that its schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year.

Tesche said while they’ve had some students who are lacking computers or tablets on which to do their work, the Catholic school system has been working to accommodate these students any way they can. One way, she said, has been through lending out existing technology at the schools to families.

Something else that has helped a lot of families is that two local internet providers are currently offering free services in order to help students continue their education. “So many families who would not have been able to connect, are able to connect,” she said. Still, Tesche added, there are students who do not have computers on which to complete their homework. For these students, teachers are putting together paper learning packets with two weeks of materials at a time. Depending on the school, parents and students can either pick up their packets in person, or the packets are being mailed to the students.

“So it's definitely a challenge right now, but (teachers are) responding and using I think as many options as possible to make sure that the kids continue to move forward,” she said. Tesche emphasized that schools are moving forward in their curriculum - rather than providing students with busy work or enrichment activities, teachers are working to prepare their students to be ready for the next grade level, whether schools will resume in-person in the fall or not.

The Diocese of Allentown is also unique in that it has the only Catholic high school for students in recovery from substance addiction, Kolbe Academy. The school is in its first full year of operation, and so while it is “unfortunate” that the coronavirus closed the school’s doors in its first year, Tesche said those students have been able to move their instruction as well as their counseling and therapy completely online.

“We just had a student this week celebrate 100 days clean and sober,” she said. “I'm really proud of that. They are doing really good work.”

Additionally, the school system has also partnered with Catholic Charities at this time in order to be able to address any mental health or social-emotional needs that families might have, Tesche said.

“We’re just dovetailing really nicely to make sure they have support of Catholic Charities,” she said.

In Ontario, the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board said in a meeting this week that they have been accommodating students without access to technology by providing them with weekly paper packets. Teachers have adjusted instruction so that each week is planned out in advance, and students can complete the weekly work at their own pace.

“...(the students) enjoy having the freedom to complete their work (on their own schedule)...they can do all their Monday and Tuesday work on Monday. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the work. Surprisingly, no complaints,” Anthony DeLorenzi, an H-SCDSB student representative, said during a board meeting this week, according to local news source

Rose Burton Spohn, H-SCDSB director of education, told the board that about 70 students in the district were lacking either computers or access to the internet, and that the packets were being delivered to students on an ongoing basis. Teachers have also made themselves available via phone calls to students who lack internet access, she said.

Catherine Thompson is the Superintendent of Catholic Schools for Diocese of Las Vegas. Thompson told CNA that while they had some students who lacked access to computers at home, they were able to fill those needs with what the schools had on hand. Thompson said that the schools prepared for the impending closures as they watched the development of the pandemic, and particularly how it was affecting some harder-hit states on the East Coast.

Part of that preparation included a couple of surveys sent to parents, asking them about their technological needs as well as what they would like to see out of the distance learning experience.

“(What) we needed to know was what type of devices would be available - iPads, tablets, are they Windows people, are they Mac people. So they provided us with that,” Thompson said.

“Then the next thing we wanted to know was their shared access amongst the entire family. Then we were looking at what is your internet access like? Was it excellent? Like would you rate it as reliable or average, it's mostly reliable or very, very low quality or very limited? We needed to know if they had a printer, we needed to know if they had a scanner. Then we also wanted to know were they comfortable with us using things like YouTube with the children,” Thompson said.

She added that they also asked about access to non-technology materials, such as paper, pens, or markers. Another part of the preparation included training teachers as well as some parents on how to use platforms such as Zoom or Google Classroom.

Thompson said the teachers and schools also focused on how to make distance learning most effective without students having to spend every moment of their day in front of a screen.

“There are a lot of different pieces that you can do both online and offline,” she said. Some teachers have instruction time and then offline time for students to work.

Other teachers are getting creative and assigning things like “exercise or a drawing a picture or recording something, or just make a tent and go inside and read, little things that they could do both inside and outside,” she said.

Chilelli, too, added that the Denver Catholic school system has always emphasized that technology should not be used in education for its own sake.

“When we were figuring out what must be true about distance learning, we wanted to make sure that yes, it happened at home, but it was also philosophically aligned with what we believe about education and specifically Catholic education,” she said. “We would always say that we don't think that education should happen behind a computer screen, and that children should be engaged with texts, with great texts, they should be engaged in human interaction, and with primary documents. So we always promoted distance learning as being necessarily very simple - that it should not be just attempting to take on a technology just simply because it was out there,” she said.

Chilelli said the shift to distance learning also forced teachers to evaluate what the most essential learning standards were for each subject matter, and to focus their time and lessons on those most essential things.

“Let's make sure that everything we're asking students do is really worthy of their time, which we would always say, but even more importantly now,” she said. 

Overall, Thompson said she’s been very impressed with the work both teachers and parents have done to make this new system work.

“I want people to know that our teachers are absolutely amazing. They are the lifeblood of our schools and they have just ...the way and the manner in which they have risen to the occasion, the positive feedback that we've heard from our parents,” she said. “They appreciate all the work that we're doing on behalf of all of our students. Our schools - while our campuses are closed - our schools are very much open,” she said. “The amazing teachers and principals, they've just done an amazing job working on behalf of our students. So I can't say enough good things. I think that there will be so many more positives to come out of what's been such a difficult situation.”

Michigan governor calls abortion 'life sustaining'

Fri, 04/17/2020 - 18:00

CNA Staff, Apr 17, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Pro-life adovcates have criticized the governor of Michigan for calling aboriton a “life-sustaining” procedure during an interview on Thursday.

In an April 16 appearance on the podcast “The Axe Files,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) was asked by host David Axelrod to react efforts by some states to limit abortions as part of their efforts to conserve medical resources and combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We stopped elective surgeries here in Michigan. Some people have tried to say that that type of a procedure is considered the same and that’s ridiculous,” said Whitmer.

“A woman’s healthcare, her whole future, her ability to decide if and when she starts a family is not an election, it is a fundamental to her life. It is life sustaining and it’s something that government should not be getting in the middle of,” the governor said. 

Axelrod, the host of the podcast, is a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama. 

Right to Life of Michigan issued a statement on Friday criticizing Whitmer for calling abortion “life sustaining.” 

“Whether or not it’s time for Michigan to allow surgeries deemed non-essential is a question for public health experts. However, we demand Governor Whitmer’s rule be applied equally to everyone. Abortion doesn’t sustain life. Elective abortions sustain lifestyles through taking lives,” said Barbara Listing, president of Right to Life of Michigan.

Listing said it was “unfair” that people in Michigan are unable to receive certain medical treatments, such as joint replacements, “while abortion facilities have free reign.” 

“Governor Whitmer’s ideology demands that she believe that needed medical procedures to treat real injuries and disease are not life-sustaining, and therefore she can get in the middle of those healthcare decisions.”

It is “heinous” that abortions are allowed to continue amidst the potential personal protective equipment shortages that resulted in other procedures being canceled, said Listing. She suggested that Whitmer is prioritizing her political future ahead of the needs of Michiganders, and criticized the governor for her “extensive national media tour.” 

“Her most important audience is Joe Biden’s vice presidential selection committee, not the people of Michigan,” she said. 

“Governor Whitmer has allowed her ideology to waste PPE needed by doctors and nurses during the worst stages of this pandemic, and now it has created a two-tier healthcare system in Michigan where abortion comes first and patients with serious medical conditions come second.”

Statewide, Michigan has had 29,263 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with just over 2,000 deaths.

Abortion providers in states that have declared abortions to be “elective” procedures have filed lawsuits against the states in an effort to keep providing abortions.

Judges have issued injunctions allowing the abortion providers to continue operating in Alabama, Ohio, and Oklahoma. Only Texas has seen their ban upheld by a court.

LA archdiocese to lead novena for sexual abuse healing

Fri, 04/17/2020 - 16:27

Los Angeles, Calif., Apr 17, 2020 / 02:27 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles will lead nine days of prayer and reflection for healing from sexual abuse, from April 18-26.

“This novena is offered for those directly harmed by sexual abuse, both in and outside the church,” Heather Banis, Victims Assistance Ministry Coordinator for the archdiocese, said April 17.

“Together we will pray for healing of our Church and communities, as we struggle to understand, atone, restore and re-imagine our church, our schools, and our neighborhoods, in the wake of the scandals that dominate the news, particularly as Catholics.”

April is marked as Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States. With much of the world under lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, domestic violence advocates and other groups are warning that lockdowns may make those vulnerable to abuse even more vulnerable.

Many sexual abuse survivors are victimized by a known and trusted adult, Banis noted, and such betrayal is amplified when a shelter-at-home order confines a victim with their perpetrator.

Each day of the novena, a different parish in the archdiocese will host a prayer service or celebrate a livestreamed Mass dedicated to healing from sexual abuse.

During the novena, the archdiocese is asking Catholics to decorate and light a candle at home for the healing of those who have suffered from sexual abuse.

Prayer intentions and intercessions during the novena include the protection of the most vulnerable in our communities, for the healing and comfort of those who have been sexually abused, and for all families strive to provide safe and nurturing environments for children and young people, the archdiocese concluded.

OKC archbishop to celebrate Mass on 25th anniversary of bombing

Fri, 04/17/2020 - 02:55

Oklahoma City, Okla., Apr 17, 2020 / 12:55 am (CNA).- Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City will celebrate Mass April 17 across the street from a memorial commemorating the 1995 terror attack that killed nearly 170 people.

“These were our family members, our friends, co-workers and neighbors. We are grateful for their lives and we will never forget their sacrifice,” Coakley said April 16.

The anniversary of the bombings— which remain the deadliest domestic terror attack in American history— this year falls on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 19.

Coakley will celebrate Mass at the city’s downtown Saint Joseph Old Cathedral, with a livestream available.

“When we experience darkness and loss, Jesus shelters us and gives us hope,” Coakley continued.

“He accompanies us as we forge our path forward toward healing and peace. During Poland’s dark days preceding the Second World War, Jesus promised Saint Faustina that his Divine Mercy would never abandon those who trust in him. He promised this gift especially at the hour of death for those who turn to him.”

Several co-conspirators detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, injuring more than 800 and killing 168— including 19 children who were in a daycare in the building and three unborn children in their mother’s wombs.

“The evil that visited our city 25 years ago sought to strike fear in our hearts and destroy our way of life. But we are a resilient community, a people of faith, who overcame evil with goodness,” Coakley said.

“We refuse to be conquered by hatred. We remain grateful for the first responders and all those who rushed in to assist us that day and in the months following. We are grateful for the faith that has sustained us and the generosity of so many who have supported us...We pray that our city will continue to be a beacon of hope, healing and reconciliation for all people.”


Catholic singer opens up about launching an album during coronavirus

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic singer-songwriter Marie Miller said she was not prepared for a global pandemic to coincide with the release of her new folk album.

As the calendar turned to March, Miller was ramping up for her album release at the end of the month. Then the coronavirus pandemic exploded in the U.S., cancelling her scheduled shows in New York City and Virginia, and in-person interviews with media outlets.

Miller is dependent upon concerts for her livelihood as a musician, and so the mass cancellations and bans on gatherings for public safety reasons forced a serious change in her schedule.

“Talk about a curveball,” she told CNA in an interview on her new album “Little Dreams” released on March 27. “I worked on this for a year and a half, and all of a sudden I can’t even play it live.”

Yet, Miller said, the origins of the album—her leap of faith from the financial security of a record label to being an independent musician—helped create music reflective of the current times, with songs focused on the challenge of trusting in God amid uncertainty and doubt.

“The reason why I decided to release this music in this time was that hopefully it would be a time for people to be blessed by this, and inspired, and healed, and ready to be brave right now,” Miller told CNA.

“The Divine Artist makes beauty out of suffering,” she said, noting that “as artists, we have the opportunity to make beauty out of suffering, and I think that’s our call, to make a mosaic out of our brokenness.”

Faced with a change in plans, she quickly adapted, organizing a living room concert on March 14 and streaming it live to followers on Instagram. More than $1,000 in tips came in online, one of multiple random acts of generosity she said experienced in recent days. 

“God has given me daily bread,” she said. “Really, we’re just walking day by day with Our Lord.”

Miller is the third of ten children in a Catholic family from western Virginia. She plays guitar, mandolin, and piano, has been singing since age 7, and has been writing music and performing full-time for ten years.

Her 2013 single “You’re Not Alone” was #1 on the Billboard Christian Hot AC/CHR chart, and its video was featured on VH1 and CMT. Miller’s 2014 single “6’2”, was played on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” She has also opened for the BackStreet Boys, toured with American Idol winner Kris Allen and singer/songwriter Five For Fighting.

In 2015, Miller received the opportunity of a lifetime, performing both singles in front of Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. She saw that experience, which came at a crossroads in her career, as a sign to continue making music.

Now five years later, “I would say, some of that playful, jokey, lyrical content is less,” she said of her new music. “This is a little bit more serious.”

Miller released an album “Letterbox” in 2017, and then in 2018 parted ways with Nashville-based Curb Records with whom she had been working for ten years. The switch demanded courage and trust in God, she said, and both of which are reflected in the lyrics of the new album.

“I never really know what’s happening, besides the next couple of weeks, which has been a little bit of a trust lesson here,” Miller said.

She needed to find investors for her independent album, and fans stepped up in support. By investing, they would receive dividends from each time her music is streamed through Spotify and Apple Music.

A support team that included Sean Fowler, the founder and CEO of digital distribution leader Tone Tree, and Erik Anderson, publicist for Missing Piece Group, helped promote Miller’s music online. Her track “Imaginary Friend” was streamed more than 300,000 times in its first two months on Apple Music.

“I’ve just seen God already bless this music,” Miller said.

With her new album, Miller said she is both setting out on her own and moving back in. Her newly established freedom as an independent artist has afforded her the opportunity to return to the sound of bluegrass music she grew up listening to, “organic, earthy music,” lyrically that was “authentically me,” she said.

“To a secular audience,” she said, “‘Little Dreams’ is a bit more about just believing in yourself and believing in your dream.”

“If you kind of dig deeper,” she continued, “you see that I’m actually talking about how all of us are created for a purpose, to do something that no one else can do.” The title also emphasizes the beauty of the small, everyday encounters with one soul that “echoes into eternity,” she said.

References to faith and literature are evident throughout the album. The track “More Than What I see” includes the lyric “late have I loved this gift,” which Miller said is a nod to St. Augustine’s famous declaration in his Confessions “late have I loved thee” and her own desire to rely on Divine Providence.

Other songs include allusions and references to writers as varied as John Steinbeck and St. John Henry Newman.

Miller hopes to return to live in-person concerts soon. In the meantime, as her audience listens online, “hopefully, this music brings them peace and hope,” she said, “and just a little bit of relaxation in a pretty stressful time.”

Out-of-state travel to Arkansas abortion clinic continues, despite coronavirus concerns

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 21:00

Little Rock, Ark., Apr 16, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Health authorities have said an emergency ban on elective abortions in Arkansas was necessary to limit the number of women traveling from other states, and possibly bringing the coronavirus with them.

Though the fate of the ban is now in the federal courts, one observer said that the state’s abortion clinic appears to be making the state an “abortion destination” attracting women from out-of-state.

“If the Arkansas Department of Health and the governor’s office have found that a ban on elective surgeries is needed to protect public health during this pandemic, then this decision should be respected and followed by surgical providers, including this abortion provider,” Catherine Phillips of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Little Rock's Respect Life Office told CNA April 16.

“What is particularly troubling in this situation is the apparent increase in the number of abortions in the past three weeks as well as the apparent increase in the number of women who are traveling to Little Rock Family Planning Services from out of state, especially Texas and Louisiana, during this national health emergency,” she said.

“It’s very distressing to see 25 cars in the parking lot at Little Rock Family Planning Services and at least one-third of those cars with out-of-state license plates.”

Last week Arkansas ordered Little Rock Family Planning Services to stop performing surgical abortions except those performed to protect the life and health of the mother. The clinic said it had scheduled about 20 women for abortions, the Associated Press reports.

On April 9 Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. Nathaniel Smith encouraged the abortion clinic to stop seeing out-of-state patients, the Associated Press reports. The next day, the Department of Health said any further violations of the order would result in the suspension of the clinic's license.

“The risk was particularly high because a high proportion of those cases were coming from out of state... bringing that risk of transmission with them from other states with a higher rate of COVID-19 than Arkansas,” Smith said.

Phillips said the Arkansas governor has “repeatedly” emphasized limits on travel to the state as part of a strategy to slow the spread of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

“Arkansas seems to have become an ‘abortion destination’ and this has been described as a ‘public health hazard’,” she continued. “It is particularly appalling that while so many are unemployed and so many of us are making sacrifices to protect the health of those who are most vulnerable to this coronavirus, at Little Rock Family Planning Services it is business as more than usual.”

The lawsuit has had initial success and secured a temporary restraining order against state action, but the case is now under the consideration of the federal courts.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has said in an appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal that a federal judge wrongly ruled that elective abortions are exempt from an Arkansas emergency ban on elective surgeries, the Associated Press reports. Rutledge said the injunction was issued without allowing the state to respond, in effect “declaring abortion a judicial sacred cow — untouchable even in an effort to save lives.”

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker on April 14 granted a temporary restraining order against the state of Arkansas’ order to halt elective abortions. Baker said the limited record supports the allegation that enforcement of the order will inflict serious physical, emotional, and psychological injuries on (the abortion provider’s) patients by forcing them to delay, or altogether forgo, access to abortion care.”

Phillips said the judge's comments are limited to the clients seeking abortion at the clinic.

“If we look at the larger picture we can talk about the many women who have been seriously wounded- emotionally, psychologically and even physically by abortion,” she said. “Our Project Rachel Ministry works with hundreds of these women (and a few men, too) every year and provides resources and opportunities for healing from the deep wounds of abortion.”

For Phillips, the debate is an opportunity to raise awareness about “the devastation caused by abortion,” and also the need to help women who seek it.

“When a mother faces an unplanned pregnancy, she needs better care than legal access to abortion. She needs real help. The Catholic Church vigorously opposes abortion and is ready to help any mother in need, especially during this pandemic when a mother may be particularly anxious. Especially now when we are physically apart, women are in great need of friendship and compassion. Worried mothers need help with financial and material resources and also with emotional and spiritual support during the pregnancy and for the family after the baby is born.”

She said parishes, pregnancy centers and other community groups can provide this care.

“As the court battles over abortion continue, we pray for a day when abortion will be illegal, but also for a day when it will not even be considered an option,” she said. “Our governor has pledged that Arkansas’'will do all that is necessary to protect life’ and as the Church in Arkansas is committed to do our part to translate these words into effective service.”

Several other states, including Alabama, Alaska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas, have attempted to classify elective abortions as non-essential procedures during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many states have suspended medical procedures deemed non-emergency or non-essential in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus and to free up medical resources and hospital capacity.


A time to examine our choices: Theologians discuss pope’s call to rethink consumption

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- In an Easter letter to NGOs, Pope Francis emphasized the need to slow down and rethink consumption and production patterns during the pandemic—something other popes have consistently talked about, said Catholic theologians.

“Pope Francis is right that this is definitely a time for rethinking consumption,” said David Cloutier, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

The pope’s comments on the need to rethink lifestyles and consumption are in line with those of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope St. John Paul II before him, said William Patenaude, an environmental engineer and theologian who writes for the site

The mass closures of businesses and economic slowdown caused by the pandemic have brought economic hardship to millions, it has also forced us “to examine our lives and examine our consumption, and really see ourselves as part of a community,” Patenaude said.

Pope Francis has spoken several times recently of the need to reevaluate current production and consumption mentalities in the modern global economy.  

In his March 27 extraordinary moment of prayer from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the pope said that the new coronavirus (COVID-19) had exposed flaws in current economic and social structures.

“It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities,” Pope Francis said.

In an Easter letter to members of worldwide popular movements and organizations, in which he urged renewed consideration of a “universal basic wage,” Pope Francis said that the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could be an opportunity for “ecological conversion.”

“Our civilization — so competitive, so individualistic, with its frenetic rhythms of production and consumption, its extravagant luxuries, its disproportionate profits for just a few — needs to downshift, take stock, and renew itself,” the pope said.

In calling for an “ecological conversion,” the pope is addressing several themes, Patenaude and Cloutier said. These include the need for people to practice frugality and invest in goods that build up their communities, to rediscover the importance of human relationships, and to see how everything is “interconnected.”

Questions remain about how and when the economy will fully reopen— in weeks, months, or a year from now— and how and where will Americans choose to spend their money. Will things ever go back to “normal”?

Many Americans have already had to change their spending habits, Clautier said, as the mass closures of business by the pandemic has eliminated “nonessential” expenditures.

“It’s going to happen on its own,” Patenaude said of consumption changes. “People are going to learn that they can live without things.”

Yet the pope isn’t necessarily talking about spending less, so much as on what people are spending their money, Cloutier said. Instead of spending as much on short-term luxuries like annual iPhone upgrades, people could consider investing in goods that benefit their community. This is part of the Church’s teaching on the “universal destination of goods” where once a family’s necessities have been met, extra resources should go towards “building up social solidarity,” he noted.

“When we reopen —in so many places from libraries to children’s sports activities and playgrounds, to churches - there will be a need for new equipment or extra sanitation, various kinds of goods that will make it possible for us to use a playground or go to church, under the new circumstances,” Cloutier said

“What we can think about in this downshift is how to direct our resources towards building up social solidarity, rather than pursuing certain kinds of status competitions, extravagant luxuries,” he said.

The professor said Pope Francis is also drawing attention to the rights and dignity of workers, particularly lower-wage workers who play a critical role in maintaining supply chains and help produce and deliver goods at a rapid-fire pace to meet consumer demand.

“Free delivery is a tragedy,” Cloutier said of marketing efforts to have goods delivered during the pandemic at no extra cost to the consumer.

Often, he said, this “illusion” involves a tradeoff where delivery workers bear the cost through overwork.

“We should think about how we should pay for delivery. That is, if we really benefit from delivery,” he said, “then we should expect to pay the people who make that delivery possible a reasonable amount.”

Grocery stores empty of essentials such as toilet paper have also made Americans aware of global supply chains—and their vulnerability, said Patenaude.

For instance, a pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota had to close because more than 200 workers contracted COVID-19. Other food processing plants around the country have had to close as workers were testing positive for the virus.

People are discovering how everything is “interconnected”—another theme Pope Francis has repeatedly addressed. The current crisis is a time to see workers in supply chains as people, and not simply as someone who gets them what they want when they want it.

“We are dependent upon other human beings,” Patenaude said. “We have a moral responsibility to make sure that those other human beings are treated fairly and well.”

“Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties toward the human person, and this is an opportunity for us to really see what that means,” he said.

In the global supply chain, for instance, farmers in Africa produce cocoa that is used to make chocolate in Europe—yet they wouldn’t be able to afford the final product, Patenaude said. Ores are mined in Africa for manufacturing solar panels in Europe, yet those manufacturing jobs are not available in Africa.

People are also learning lessons of “frugality” and “allowing the reprioritization of our relationships over what we have”—lessons that previous generations learned from catastrophes such as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the Great Depression and World War II—Patenaude said.

“This is providing an opportunity for us to do that, and we’d be foolish not to take advantage of that.”

Pope Francis’ Easter letter was addressed to various NGOs, many of them from the Global South, Patenaude said. It is a regular theme of his pontificate, of bringing out voices who are not widely heard yet have a wisdom to share with the rest of the world in their ministry to the poor.

“They provide a certain wisdom about life, and a certain example about adapting to hardships. So really, in a way, he’s holding them up for us all to learn from, as well as to hear their voices,” he said.

Fall River diocese to close two schools due to coronavirus financial crisis

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 17:28

CNA Staff, Apr 16, 2020 / 03:28 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Fall River announced Wednesday that two of its schools will be closing after this academic year due to the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis.

Both of the schools which will close “were relying on the Diocese to cover budget shortfalls, but the pandemic has made that unsustainable,” the diocese announced April 15.

Coyle and Cassidy Middle School and High School in Taunton and St. Margaret Primary School in Buzzards Bay will both close at the end of the academic year.

“Catholic schools are not only about the buildings but about a community that advances the Church’s mission” Bishop Edgar da Cunha of Fall River said, explaining the decision.

“By consolidating our resources and bringing students together in these schools we can continue to provide high quality Christ-centered education for all of our students.”

The 100 high school students who attended Coyle and Cassidy will be able to attend Bishop Connolly in Fall River, about 17 miles south, and will be provided with free transportation.

Coyle and Cassidy’s middle school students will transfer to Our Lady of Lourdes School in Taunton.

Students who attended St. Margaret’s will be able to transfer to St. Pius X in Yarmouth, St. Joseph in Fairhaven, or St. Francis Xavier in Acushnet, which are between 20 and 28 miles from Buzzards Bay.

“While we sincerely regret having to close any of our Catholic schools, the ultimate goal is to strengthen all remaining schools to ensure Catholic education is available for many years to come,” Superintendent Stephen Perla said.

Perla noted that Coyle and Cassidy’s “STEM programming and facilities” will be transferred to Our Lady of Lourdes.

He added that “We are committed to helping our families transition to another Catholic school that best suits their needs.”

According to the Fall River diocese, some 5,700 students are currently enrolled in its 22 primary and secondary schools.

Getting ready for Divine Mercy Sunday at home? Here are some CNA suggestions

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 16:45

CNA Staff, Apr 16, 2020 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- On April 30, 2000, the Church officially declared the Sunday after Easter to be “Divine Mercy Sunday,” an annual celebration of the mercy of God.

The celebration usually centers around the image of Divine Mercy painted by St. Faustina Kowalska, which is placed in churches around the world, and venerated at Mass and throughout the day.

This year, with Masses suspended and churches mostly closed, the day will be different. But you can still celebrate God’s divine and abundant mercy.

Here are some suggestions for Divine Mercy Sunday, from the journalists at CNA:

--Pray the chaplet of divine mercy.

--Go to confession (if you can).

--Ask God to help you forgive someone.

--Ask someone for forgiveness.

--Watch a livestreamed Mass from the chapel of the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Łagiewniki, Poland.

--Begin "Consoling the Heart of Jesus."

--Read the diary of St. Faustina.

--Paint, draw, or color the divine mercy image

--Perform a spiritual work of mercy.

--Divine Mercy Sunday was declared by a Polish pope and involves a Polish saint. So cook a Polish feast.

--Read Pope St. John Paul II’s Dives in misericordia.

--Read “The Merchant of Venice.” Maybe stage a reading with friends over Zoom.

--Bake Divine Mercy Cookies. Like these, or these. Or get this cookie cutter. Or make Divine Mercy Sunday Sundaes.

--Pray the rosary for someone who has hurt you.

--Check out this EWTN cartoon about St. Faustine and Divine Mercy.

--Make paczki!

--Submit prayer intentions and pay for a votive candle at the Shrine of Divine Mercy.

--Read the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Because the Sunday after Easter is also ‘Quasimodo Sunday.’

--Pray for the dead.


Mississippi city lifts drive-in church ban

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 16:00

CNA Staff, Apr 16, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The mayor of Greenville, Mississippi, has withdrawn a controversial executive order that levied fines on residents if they attended a drive-in church service.

On Wednesday, April 15, the City of Greenville announced on its website that “all drive in and parking lot church services are allowed as long as families stay in their cars with windows up and adhere to all state and federal social distancing guidelines.” 

Mayor Errick D. Simmons (D) was quoted as saying that he was “pleased to announce that Governor Tate Reeves has responded to my public request for definitive guidance on drive-in and parking lot church services. Thank you, Governor Reeves.” 

Gov. Reeves (R) instituted a stay-at-home order on April 3. 

A week prior, on April 7, Simmons issued an executive order instituting a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, as well as an order that “all church buildings [be] closed for in-person and drive-in church services, until the State of Mississippi’s Shelter In Place Executive Order No. 1466 is lifted by Governor Tate Reeves.”

The order added that “churches are strongly encouraged to hold services via Facebook Live, Zoom, Free Conference Call, and any and all other social media, streaming, and telephonic platforms.”

On April 8, attendees of a parking-lot service at Temple Baptist Church in Greenville were fined $500 for violating the order. The people ticketed were sitting in their cars, with their windows rolled up, listening to a sermon broadcast on via radio. 

Two days after issuing the order, Simmons met with religious leaders in Greenville, and released a statement saying the ban on drive-in and in-person church services was Constitutionally sound. 

“This is no infringement on the right to religion or right to worship,” said Simmons. “Although it impacts on our traditional way of gathering to worship, it does not prevent us from worshipping. We need our pastors and worship leaders to be creative so that people's lives are not at risk. Please post your services on social media, Facebook Live, Zoom, and other platforms and help your neighboring churches do the same.”

On April 11, police in Greenville blocked the parking lot of King James Bible Baptist Church, which was attempting to hold an Easter service. 

Both Temple Baptist Church and the King James Bible Baptist Church filed lawsuits against the City of Greenville, arguing that the city had been targeting churches and church goers with the executive order. In the lawsuits, the churches noted that other businesses in the city--such as a Sonic Drive-In, a fast-food chain where patrons are served food while in their cars--are often more crowded than the church parking lots and were not punished. 

Simmons announced on April 13 that the city would not be collecting fines from the churchgoers. 

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest on Tuesday supporting Temple Baptist Church, and saying the city had engaged in discriminatory practices. 

“But even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers,” said a statement from Attorney General William Barr. 

“Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity. For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings. Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens.

Barr added that “As we explain in the Statement of Interest, where a state has not acted evenhandedly, it must have a compelling reason to impose restrictions on places of worship and must ensure that those restrictions are narrowly tailored to advance its compelling interest.” 

There have been two confirmed deaths due to COVID-19 in Greenville, Mississippi, a city of approximately 34,000. There have been 62 confirmed cases in Washington County, where Greenville is located.

Governor 'wasn't thinking of the Bill of Rights' when banning religious meetings

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The governor of New Jersey said on Wednesday that he had not considered the Bill of Rights when issuing an order banning religious gatherings as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Appearing on Fox News on April 15, Gov. Phil Murphy (D), a Catholic, was questioned by host Tucker Carlson about his executive order in the light of constitutional protections for religious worship and the freedom to congregate.

In Lakewood, New Jersey, 15 people attending a funeral for a recently-deceased rabbi were arrested at a synagogue on April 1 and charged with violating the order. Other religious events, including weddings, have been dispersed by police due to the order.

When asked how these policies were in line with the Constitution, Murphy replied “that’s above my pay grade,” and added that he had not considered the constitution when he made the order.

“I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this,” he said. “First of all, we went to the scientists who said people have to stay away from each other.” Murphy also pointed out that houses of worship already had to comply with various regulations, such as fire codes. 

Following Murphy’s executive order, the public celebration of Mass was suspended in all five of the state’s Catholic dioceses. 

Mark Rienzi, a law professor and president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA that, despite the governor’s comments, considering constitutional rights was well within the scope of Murphy’s role as governor. 

“Governor Murphy’s job, of course, requires him to consider his state’s public health,” Rienzi told CNA in a statement. “He got that job by taking an oath to support the Constitution--including the right to religious exercise.” 

“Far from being ‘above his paygrade,’ swearing to guarantee our rights alongside public health is how he got his paygrade,” Rienzi said. 

According to the 2020 issue of “Student Learning Standards--Social Studies,” which is available on the State of New Jersey Department of Education’s website, by the end of the 12th grade, each New Jersey student should be able to demonstrate detailed understanding of Constitutional rights. 

These include being able to “Assess the importance of the intellectual origins of the Foundational Documents and assess their importance on the spread of democracy around the world” as well as “Prepare and articulate a point of view about the importance of individual rights, separation of powers, and governmental structure in New Jersey’s 1776 constitution and the United States Constitution.” 

The student learning standards also expect high school graduates to have the ability to “Explain why American ideals put forth in the Constitution have been denied to different groups of people throughout time (i.e., due process, rule of law and individual rights).”

NY Catholic health system participating in coronavirus treatment trials

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 13:57

CNA Staff, Apr 16, 2020 / 11:57 am (CNA).- Catholic Health Services of Long Island is taking part in two Mayo Clinic trials designed to develop treatments for the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

“Our clinical teams have spent several weeks caring for COVID-19 patients. It means a great deal to everyone to take part in these two cutting-edge research efforts,” Jason Golbin, CHS Senior Vice President and Chief Quality Officer, said in an April 15 release.

The first of the trials involves treatments using convalescent plasma, taken from the blood of people who have had COVID-19 and recovered. That trial is taking place at all of CHS’ six hospitals.

The plasma can be administered only to a consenting COVID-19 patient, or a patient whose family member offers consent, CHS says, and will be given to those patients judged by a physician to be at high risk of disease progression to severe or life-threatening.

Patients who recover from COVID-19 do so in part because of antibodies in their blood, and initial data from the studies show the plasma treatments as “a benefit for some patients, leading to improvement,” CHS says.

The second trial, CHS says, involves using the medication remdesivir, which was developed to treat the Ebola virus and has been shown to be safe for use in humans.

Three of CHS’ hospitals— St. Francis Hospital, The Heart Center, and Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center— are taking part in that trial.

Remdesivir has been successfully used to treat other coronaviruses in the past, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, as well as some of the viruses behind the common cold, Scientific American reports.

The remdesivir treatment regimen lasts ten days. Remdesivir must be given intravenously, so patients can only get it in a hospital, Scientific American reports.

CHS says the use of the drug follows limited testing in the United States, Canada, China, and elsewhere that led to an improvement in the condition of some patients with the coronavirus.

Some 2 million people worldwide are confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, with nearly 140,000 deaths reported.

New York is the hardest hit state in terms of the total number of infections, with nearly 214,000 confirmed cases.

In response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call for hospitals to prepare for a surge of cases in New York, a former Catholic nursing home near Buffalo opened April 14 as a rehabilitation center for coronavirus patients who have been discharged from Catholic hospitals but are not yet ready to return home.

Las Cruces bishop explains decision to resume public Masses, even with civic restrictions

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 13:35

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2020 / 11:35 am (CNA).- Bishop Peter Baldacchino of the Diocese of Las Cruces said the Church is the “essential service of hope” during the coronavirus pandemic, and that the Church must “welcome as many as we can” in line with public health regulations.

The bishop announced April 15 that public Masses and sacramental life in his diocese – including weddings and funerals – would resume, even while observing state public health rules that prohibit indoor gatherings of more than five people.

“We are the great essential service of hope, now more than ever,” the bishop told CNA in an April 16 interview.

On Wednesday, Baldacchino circulated a letter to all the priests of his diocese, lifting the outright ban on the public celebration of Mass and encouraging them to resume sacramental ministry.

“You look around us right now in this country and what do you see? People are dying of this terrible disease, but also of despair. There are reports of increased suicides, crises of addiction, violence in the homes. This is a moment of total darkness for many.”

“We must bring the light of Christ into this darkness. We cannot close ourselves off, closeness in this moment is the one thing forbidden, and yet this is what we are called as priests to be: close to our people,” the bishop wrote.

Baldacchino’s April 15 letter also authorized priests to distribute Holy Communion, while observing a specific protocol he delineated, and to hold weddings and funerals on church property. 

The bishop told CNA that, so far, the response in his diocese had been broadly positive, and Catholics have thanked him for the move. But, he said, there he has also heard criticism, both from those insisting he has not gone far enough and those who think he has gone too far.

Baldacchino said he is surprised by some comments objecting to the five-person limit to public Masses inside church buildings, pointing out that this is a reflection of state law and not his own preference.

“First of all, I don’t want to limit the churches to only five people. This is the decision of the governor to call churches ‘not essential,’ and I couldn’t disagree more. Many of our churches are able to hold hundreds, so we could safely fit 20 or more people while observing all the needs of social distancing. I believe the governor is misguided in not allowing churches to safely have more than 5 people, while Walmart and HomeDepot can. Which of these do you think is more essential? If we have a soul, the answer is clear. You can’t buy what we offer.”

Baldacchino said a focus on how many are allowed inside the building misses the wider provisions of his letter.

“I want the priests to be able to go out to the people – right now we cannot be boxed up in the church building or in our old ways of thinking, Christ is calling us to find new ways to announce the Gospel, and I don’t mean online.”

Baldacchino told CNA that earlier this year he had moved out of the bishop’s official residence, a house several miles outside of the city, and into the cathedral rectory, where he is living in a guest room. He said the bishop’s house is in the process of being sold to raise money for the diocese. 

“I wanted to be closer to the priests and the people, that is where a bishop belongs. I want us all to be ever closer.”

Baldacchino ordered the construction of a stage outside his Cathedral of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and used it to celebrate the liturgies of the Easter Triduum. The congregation remained in their cars, with empty parking spaces between each vehicle, and the bishop distributed Communion to each car, wearing a face mask and gloves.

“Someone reported us to the state police,” he told CNA. “I was amazed. We did this in the open, for Easter, and someone calls the police: the fear people are living in right now.”

The bishop told CNA that when the state police came to see him about the Easter celebrations they were “apologetic.”

“They came, they said they were very sorry to ask but they needed to know what had happened. We explained everything and they said ‘Father, this is all fine, we cannot see any problems.’”

His letter to priests on Tuesday set clear guidelines for pastors to say Mass in similar ways, explaining that where parking lot Masses are not feasible, priests are permitted to offer Mass outside, elsewhere on church property, with congregations of any size observing social distancing rules.

“We have to be creative, we have to respond to the times and the needs of the people,” he said.

Baldacchino also rejected the idea that resuming Masses within the limits of the public health order is elitist or exclusive.

“Right now I have the option for zero people or five. Let’s do what we can indoors. The point is not to exclude anyone, but to welcome as many as we can.”

“The pastors know very well how to proceed with prudence – to take registrations online when there are only limited spaces, to ensure there is a rotation, to start with the peripheries, to come to everyone in time. But again, the point of this really is to go out, that would be my preference.”

“The important thing is to be with the people; we cannot say ‘everyone or no one’. Where there are only a few hospital beds or ventilators and many sick people, do we say ‘we must be fair, so no one gets treated’? Of course not. Like the loaves and the fishes, we share what little we have and trust the Lord to multiply it with His grace.”

Baldacchino also reiterated his opposition to the New Mexico governor’s decision to designate churches as “non-essential.”

“People are living in fear of death, of unemployment. They are sinking into despair. How much more essential could it be that we are with them, that we can feed the soul right now?” he asked.

“I was very inspired by our Holy Father, Pope Francis. He spoke about how drastic measures are not always good. He opened the churches of Rome – in a safe way, of course – and warned us that we must remain very close to the Lord’s flock at this time. We cannot wall ourselves off.”

CNA asked Baldacchino about the risks inherent in opening the churches, even to limited numbers, and to authorizing outdoor gatherings, even with social distancing guidelines in place.

“There is always a risk,” he said, “and we must do everything we can to guard against it. But this question of risk is always aimed at the Church. We do not ask it of other places,” he said.

“On Monday I went to the McDonalds drive through - a bit of a confession here. A very nice person took my credit card at one window, and a different person gave me my food at another – no masks, no gloves. Does anyone say we must close McDonalds because there is a risk? Or Walmart, or the gas station? Of course not. We accept there are certain essential things needed to live physically. So the risk of those places is never questioned, but more than five people in a church is a crime, too risky. Isn’t the soul the most important? We’ve gone a bit insane.” 

“We have our priorities totally upside down,” he said. “Here in New Mexico, you can buy all the liquor you want, this is essential and worth the risks. You can buy marijuana, this is an essential service and the risks are tolerated. But the Eucharist – the summit of our Christian life, the sacrament of our salvation – this is not worth any risk, it’s too dangerous. We take risks to buy destructive things and call it essential while denying ourselves the true medicine. The BigMac and MillerLite, essential, the Body of Christ, not so much.”

CNA asked the bishop about the possibility that infection could be spread at an outdoor Mass, or that his guidelines could expose priests to added risk.

“There is risk, and we must do all we can to protect against it. We have been very clear: follow all the public health rules – all of them. If you are in an at-risk group, stay home.”

“But there is always some risk: there is risk at the supermarket, at the gas station, at the bank. But all of these places we keep open because we understand some things you simply cannot close down completely because there is a basic human need. Well, if food and money are basic human needs, even more so are the sacraments. It all boils down to whether or not you consider what the Church offers essential. Once you consider the Church essential, many of the ‘what if’s’ are no longer asked.”

“As for us as priests – and I say ‘us’ because I am the first priest of this diocese – we have to take care of ourselves and of our people. Use every precaution, understand the situation of the parish, respond to the needs of the people. I have lifted restrictions, I have not ordered any priest to do anything they think cannot work in their parish, and I have not recommended anything I am not first doing myself.”

In his letter to the priests of the diocese, Baldacchino, who was formed in the Neocatechumenal Way-affiliated Redemportis Mater missionary seminary in Newark and spent time as a missionary in the Caribbean, wrote that he had lost two close friends to the pandemic.

“We are all aware of the tragedy caused by the coronavirus, I myself have lost two close friends of mine, priests I studied and served with,” he wrote. “I am fully conscious of the death and sadness these days seem to bring.” But, the bishop told CNA, all suffering finds its meaning in the cross and resurrection of Christ which, he said, defines his own ministry as bishop.

“When I am asked how I cared for these people the Lord has entrusted to me, I want to be able to say I was with them, I was among them.”

In addition to lifting the restrictions on the public celebration of Mass, Baldacchino has also encouraged the priests of the diocese to ensure that the sacraments of confession and anointing are available, saying in his letter to priests that “the faithful are not to be deprived of this sacrament, especially when in danger of death.”

He told CNA that he has been hearing confessions regularly outside his own cathedral, behind a screen to observe social distancing.

“It is a time of great risk for all of us, physically and spiritually, but as priests we are called for these moments. Like doctors and nurses, who are very much at risk at this time, our place is with the sick.”

“Pope Francis speaks of the Church as a field hospital for the wounded and sick. Well there are many people sick at soul and wounded by despair at this time, and I want to erect as many tents to treat them as best we can.”

'We are the Church' - Archbishop Christophe Pierre reflects on the pandemic

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 07:00

Washington D.C., Apr 16, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Archbishop Christophe Pierre was appointed apostolic nuncio to the United States in April 2016, after the archbishop had served as nuncio in Mexico, Uganda, and Haiti. As apostolic nuncio, Pierre is the Holy See’s diplomat to the United States, and the representative of Pope Francis to the U.S. bishops, and to all Catholics in the country.

Pierre, who celebrated 50 years of priesthood this month, spoke with CNA about living the Catholic faith during the coronavirus pandemic.

Your Excellency, throughout this pandemic Pope Francis has given us beautiful signs of our need for prayer: His walking pilgrimage, the Urbi et Orbi blessing, and his celebration of the Paschal Triduum in the near-empty St. Peter's Basilica.

What message is the Holy Father giving during this pandemic? What does he want Catholics to remember and to understand?

During these days, we have received a lot of messages on our smartphones. A friend of mine sent me a humorous picture of God talking to the ‘enemy.’ The evil one saying, “With COVID19 I have closed your churches,” and with God answering, “On the contrary, I have opened a church in each house.”

I have been so impressed by the beautiful simplicity and the depth of the Holy Father’s Urbi et Orbi blessing in St. Peter’s Square. His meditation reached out to us to where we are. Consistent with what he has tried to tell us in the last six years, he helped us to understand. This is what a leader should do. As we suddenly rediscover our vulnerability, he invited us to rely on God and one another.


During this pandemic, we know that people are suffering around the world, from the virus and from the economic collapse. Yet while we want to help, we are bound in our homes. What works of mercy can we do from our homes; what good can Catholics do to help during the pandemic?

We are all confined to our homes. And it is quite painful. And the Shepherd wants to reach out to us in our homes, where we are mysteriously obliged to stay to protect ourselves, but also to prepare a new world, hopefully different. The suffering is immense, but we cannot remain alone. 

We want to go out, to re-build, and rediscover Christian core values, often forgotten; such as human dignity, centrality of the human person, solidarity, and fraternity. 

Yes, we are not able to go to church, but our houses have become ‘church’ – the domestic church, the place where we listen to the voice of God, and his life is received to transform us. 

From the empty churches the Good News has been announced and many people have suddenly experienced the power of the sacraments, living signs of God’s presence in our lives...God who accompanies us, forgives us, and has united us to Him and to our mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. 

I celebrated the liturgies of Holy Week in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Even though the basilica was empty, I was told that a half million households connected to this public prayer of the Church through social media. 

Archbishop, the economic collapse will have long-term repercussions in this country. More people are now unemployed than have been since the Great Depression. What role will the Church play as we adjust to a new economic reality, especially one that could be so gravely difficult?

The economic collapse is disastrous; so many have lost almost everything. The economy which looked so strong showed its fragility in only a few weeks. And yet this country considers itself to be the strongest in the world. What about the poor?

There are no other solutions than to rebuild. Together. We are reminded by Pope Francis it is not the time to make arms. He even asked us to stop all kinds of useless wars. The new reality which will come out of this experience will necessarily be built upon a new way of using resources. The Church is made up of those who are disciples of the Prince of Peace and Justice, and who will participate actively in the construction of a new society.

During these days, I have witnessed the extraordinary work of Catholic institutions at all levels – parish, diocesan, and national – involved with helping and sharing. The particular contribution of the Church will always be attention to the poorest and weakest. To live out the story of the Good Samaritan.

The pandemic has led many people to question the wisdom of an ever-globalizing economy. Pope Francis, in Laudato si, wrote about the importance of an economy at which the common good is at the center. What lessons does Laudato si have for the moment?

In his meditation during the recent Orbi et Urbi, the Holy Father said: “This storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedule, our projects, our habits, and our priorities...All those attempt to anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly ‘save’ us.”

During the last few years, many people did not appreciate the words of wisdom in Laudato si and many other reflections on the social doctrine of the Church. And yet, [those reflections] repeat basic principles, particularly the importance of an economy at the service of the common good, of economic systems serving the whole person and all people, the respect of God’s creation, the sharing of what is given by God for our own good, solidarity and subsidiarity. These are fundamental ideas for the building of a just society and should inspire all of those who have a human responsibility; that is each one of us.

At the end of the meditation, the Holy Father said: “embracing his own cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships at the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring.”


Across the country, bishops have reacted in different ways to the stay-at-home orders, with regard to sacramental ministry. Some bishops have prohibited confession except in the most dire circumstances, or baptisms, or anointing. At the same time, many Catholics say they feel a great need for the sacraments to get through the crisis, and some priests have told me they would not be able to deny confession to a person in mortal sin.

What are the principles that should guide the Church right now with regard to sacramental ministry? What has been the approach of the Holy Father to these questions?

I know the Shepherds of the Church have been suddenly obliged to make difficult decisions about the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments, particularly during Holy Week. Most of the time, they have no other choice than to acknowledge – for good reasons – the decisions of those who have the responsibility for the common good. It was necessary and they have done well. Christians are faithful citizens and are called to live their faith in solidarity with all; to be the “salt of the earth and light of the world.” 

For sure, the pope, bishops and priests have had to adjust to new situations. At times in normal circumstances, we may take for granted the sacraments of the Church. Perhaps, we are being led to rediscover the hunger for Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, and his forgiveness in Confession.

I have observed that many [clerics] have sacrificed to be with their people and some have even given their lives. The Holy Father is continually encouraging us to be at the service of the people. Thank God for the creativity of the Church in the United States. 

There is also another dimension to your question. It is true, in such extraordinary times we have to be creative, to discover new ways of doing things. However, we should never forget that the Church is the sacrament of the presence of God and his love for suffering humanity. 

What has your own prayer life been like during these times? How do you see the movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church right now?

I am convinced that COVID19 has helped us to become aware of the fact that we are the Church. Each one of us, baptized in Christ, is an instrument of his presence, with a special role for our own salvation and the salvation of others.

My prayer? First and foremost, like many, I have felt powerless, vulnerable, like the disciples in the boat during the storm. Many of my “certainties” disappeared. My prayer has been to trust him, to have faith, and to ask him to be a more responsible and active participant of his body, the Church.   


Little Sisters retirement home sees 11 COVID-related deaths

Thu, 04/16/2020 - 02:51

Newark, Delaware, Apr 16, 2020 / 12:51 am (CNA).- A retirement residence run by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Delaware has seen almost a dozen deaths related to the novel coronavirus, although the sisters say other sick patients are recovering.

Sister Constance Veit, communications director for Little Sisters of the Poor, said 11 people have died from COVID-19 at Jeanne Jugan Residence in Newark, Delaware, since March 29.

According to The Dialog, the newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington, there are more than 60 people living at the retirement residence, including 40 in the nursing unit.

However, Veit said it’s been several days since the most recent death occurred, and other patients are beginning to recover.

“We have had 11 resident deaths related to Covid-19, but none for more than two days now, so we feel we may have turned a corner,” she said on Sunday.

“I was going around to wish the residents happy Easter and found a few of them who have been sick looking quite good,” she said, according to The Dialog.

COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for elderly people and those with pre-existing medical conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that 80% of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. have occurred among people ages 65 years and older.

All of those who died from the virus at the Jeanne Jugan Residence suffered from an underlying condition, The Dialog reported.

Sister Veit reflected on the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, and the hope it provides amid grief.

“Today, on Easter Sunday, as I reflect on the loss of … residents, I realize that faith in the resurrection of Jesus is the only thing that can make sense out of this situation,” she said.

“Because of the resurrection we know that Jesus is still alive and walking at our side. Through our faith in the resurrection we believe that those who have died are in an unimaginably better place, no matter how good our earthly life has been.”

She added that while this did not diminish the loss experienced by those whose loved ones had died, she hopes they will find consolation in their belief in heaven.

Viet also expressed gratitude for those in the community who have donated various supplies to the residence.

“And for these we are so very grateful. I think we are OK for everything right now,” she said. “We want to thank everyone in the local community for being so good to us and our residents.”

'Robustly enforce' chemical abortion regulations, Congressmen tell FDA

Wed, 04/15/2020 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Apr 15, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- More than 150 members of Congress have written to the Food and Drug Administration in support of continued regulation of chemical abortions. The legislators wrote to the FDA Tuesday, in response to calls to expand access to at-home abortions during the pandemic.

The letter, sent April 14 to FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn, M.D., was signed by 121 members of the House and 38 senators. It calls on the FDA to keep the mifepristone-misoprostol chemical abortion regimen on the administration’s Risk Evalutation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS) list. The list is reserved for drugs of special concern.

“We write to urge you to continue to robustly enforce the REMS for medication abortion and end dangerous runarounds of these protections under the guise of medical research,” the letter states. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) led the letter in the Senate, while Rep. Robert E. Latta (R-Ohio) led the letter in the House.

The FDA allows for chemical abortions, but requires that a certified prescriber dispense the two drug regimen of RU-486 and misoprostol after confirming the gestational age to be not more than 10 weeks and ruling out an ectopic pregnancy. The mother must also sign and keep a copy of the prescriber’s agreement.

“The New York Times editorial board and others have called for making medication abortion more widely accessible with far less oversight” through rolling back REMS safeguards during the coronavirus pandemic, the letter said. 

The lawmakers warned that complications from chemical abortions—which include cramping and bleeding—can be severe enough to require surgery in between five to seven percent of cases and said the relaxing of regulations on remote dispensing of the pills would lead to a lack of oversight.

The legislators called the proposal “both reckless and dangerous” and urged the FDA to “stand confidently for the protection of women.”

The U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference supports the goals of the letter, according to Hyde-Smith’s office. The USCCB website has a fact sheet on the risks and dangers of the chemical abortion regimen

The letter also calls on the FDA to investigate ongoing projects that involve remote dispensing of chemical abortion pills against REMS list provisions. This would include the Gynuity TelAbortion project, launched in 2015 and which is active in 13 states.

Some states have sought to halt chemical abortions along with all elective abortions, as non-essential medical procedures during the coronavirus pandemic. However, judges have allowed chemical abortions to continue despite executive orders in Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Ohio.

Las Cruces bishop first in US to resume public Masses amid pandemic

Wed, 04/15/2020 - 18:45

Washington D.C., Apr 15, 2020 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Las Cruces, New Mexico, has lifted a diocesan ban on the public celebration of Mass and told priests they may resume sacramental ministry if they follow state-ordered health precautions. He is the first U.S. bishop known to have lifted a diocesan ban on public Masses since the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the U.S. last month.

“We [as priests] have been called by Christ and ordained to serve the people of the Diocese of Las Cruces, to bring them hope and consolation during this difficult time,” Bishop Peter Baldacchino wrote in a letter dated April 15 and obtained by CNA.

Christopher Velasquez, communications director of the diocese, confirmed the letter to CNA on Wednesday evening.

Velasquez stressed the "essential ministry of hope" the Church is called to undertake during the pandemic. He added that the diocese urges all Catholics in at-risk demographics to exercise prudence, remain at home and watch the Mass on livestream whenever possible

In his letter, Baldacchino said that “At the outset of the pandemic, I ordered the priests of the Diocese of Las Cruces to suspend all public Masses as we assessed the situation and established a safe way to continue to bring Christ to the people, both through the Word of God and the Sacraments."

"These past few weeks have allowed me to further analyze the situation and discern a safe way to proceed,” the bishop wrote.

“It has become increasingly clear that the state shutdown will last for some time. Depriving the faithful of the nourishment offered through the Eucharist was indeed a difficult decision, one that I deemed necessary until I had further clarity regarding our current state of affairs, but it cannot become the status quo for the foreseeable future.”

Dioceses across the United States have suspended the public celebration of Mass, and many have restricted priests’ ability to hear confessions and anoint the sick. While priests in some dioceses have tried to find ways to provide sacramental ministry, including drive-in Masses and Eucharistic adoration, some bishops have banned these practices.

Baldacchino said in his letter that the public danger posed by the coronavirus had to inspire renewed reflection by the Church, and demanded a response from ministers. He also said that his action was in part inspired by the deaths of two priests, close friends and seminary classmates, who contracted the virus.

“We are all aware of the tragedy caused by the Coronavirus, I myself have lost two close friends of mine, priests I studied and served with. I am fully conscious of the death and sadness these days seem to bring. And yet there is more. The Coronavirus can also be a help to us. How long have we settled down in our ‘usual way’ of doing things? For how long have we grown comfortable with our routines? For how long have we taken the grace of the sacraments for granted? Or the beauty of the assembly at Mass?”

Baldacchino said the crisis created by the pandemic had brought about “a time for renewal.”

“In the events of these days and weeks the Lord is calling us out of our comfort zone, he is calling us to seek new ways to reach the people. In addition to this mission with which we are entrusted, we also have the mission to keep people safe. The two must be equally pursued,” he said.

“While it is true that we need to take every reasonable precaution to reduce the spread of Coronavirus, it is equally true that we offer the greatest ‘essential service’ to our people. The past few weeks have brought to light many unintended consequences of the ‘stay-at-home’ order.”

The bishop pointed to reports that the Disaster Distress Helpline, a federal crisis hotline run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has seen an 891% increase of calls during the pandemic, with large spikes also being recorded at suicide prevention hotlines. He also noted reports of increases in domestic violence in places under lockdown.

“Simply put, in the midst of financial uncertainty, fear for one’s health, pandemic induced anxiety and confinement to their homes, people definitely need a word of hope,” he said.

“We, as priests, are called to bring the Word of Life to people, we are called to minister the life-giving sacraments. Televised Masses have been an attempt to bridge the gap during this time, but I am increasingly convinced that this is not enough,” Baldacchino said.

“The eternal life offered in Christ Jesus needs to be announced. It was precisely the urgency of this announcement that drove the first apostles and the need is no less today. Christ is alive and we are his ambassadors.”

Revoking the suspension of public Masses, in place in the diocese since March 16, the bishop said that priests are now allowed to celebrate Masses in the presence of the faithful “while maintaining all current health precautions set forth by the state and federal government.”

Baldacchino’s letter noted that the state of New Mexico recently updated its Public Health Order, which no longer includes churches as “essential services.”

“I strongly disagree,” he said. “Sadly, the Governor is no longer exempting places of worship from the restrictions on ‘mass gatherings.’ It seems to me that while we run a daily count of the physical deaths we are overlooking those who are dead interiorly.”

To comply with the governor’s directive, guidelines issued to all priests limit attendance at Mass in church buildings to 5 people, including the celebrant, and insist that a minimum safe distance of six feet be observed and all seating sanitized after Mass ends.

Baldacchino also authorized priests to celebrate Mass outdoors, in compliance with state guidance on social distancing, and specifically recommended setting up an altar in the parish parking lot with parishioners remaining in their cars with an empty space between each vehicle.

“Parishes that lack sufficient parking spaces may celebrate the liturgies in open cemeteries or other available open spaces. Parishioners should maintain at least a six feet separation at all times,” the guidance states.

Over the Easter Triduum, the bishop had a stage erected outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and celebrated the liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil for local Catholics who remained in their cars.

The guidelines also lay out strict instructions for the distribution of Communion, with priests told to wear a face mask, sanitize their hands, and wear gloves for the distribution.

Baldacchino also encouraged priests to continue hearing confessions and ensure that the anointing of the sick was still available where necessary.

“Priests may and should continue to offer” the sacraments, he said. “The faithful are not to be deprived of this sacrament, especially when in danger of death.”

In recent weeks, Baldacchino himself has frequently heard confessions behind a screen outside the cathedral in Las Cruces.

The bishop also made provision for priests to resume weddings and funerals in accordance with state regulations on social distancing, and granted permission for them to be held outside on Church property for the duration of the pandemic.