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Celebration of public Masses suspended

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Bishop Michael F. Burbidge canceled public Masses in the Diocese of Arlington March 16 until further notice.  “The White House Coronavirus Task Force recommends limiting gatherings to 10 people or less,” he announced in a video message March 16. “This recommendation is consistent with CDC guidelines for events that serve high-risk populations. That would certainly include public Masses. Therefore, it is with great sadness that I announce that as of today, I am suspending the public celebration of all Masses in the Diocese of Arlington.

 “I have asked our pastors to keep our churches open to the public, so that those who choose to pray are welcome to do so in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord, while keeping a safe distance from one another and not exceeding the 10-person limit,” said Bishop Burbidge.

More than 50 people in Virginia have tested positive for coronavirus, including several in the geographical boundaries of the Diocese of Arlington. One man in James City County died from the virus.

During the weekend Masses of March 14-15, several precautions were in place, including the suspension of the sign of peace, the removal of holy water and the suspension of the common chalice.

Bishop Burbidge granted a dispensation from attending Mass to vulnerable populations —“those who are 60 years old or older, have chronic illness, or immune system deficiencies, as well as those who care for a person with such a condition, and individuals with grave concerns about being in public gatherings,” according to the diocesan website. Churches such as St. James Church in Falls Church livestreamed some weekend Masses. Catholics are encouraged to watch a televised or online Mass

As the number of cases of coronavirus continues to rise, counties, companies and charities are evaluating how best to prevent the spread of disease. “Some people are one paycheck away from disaster — this is it,” said Vince Cannava, program director of the diocesan Catholic Charities St. Lucy Project, a food pantry network. “We’re preparing for a tremendous onslaught. We’ll have to go as far as our inventories will take us.”

In response to school closures, St. Lucy Project is gearing up to feed school children without access to free school lunches. Cannava is requesting people donate money or nutritious, kid-friendly food. They’ve set up an Amazon wish list so that people can send them food at the click of a button.

“We’re trying to stay a step or two ahead so that we can get people taken care of and take care of our volunteers, especially since most of them are elderly. We could use younger volunteers to augment the elderly volunteers who have been faithfully helping. Call your local pantry,” said Cannava.

In addition to common-sense measures such as frequently wiping down surfaces, pantry distribution techniques have changed as well. “(We’re) stopping the client shopping and we have the volunteers in the back of the facility making boxes of food. Then we go to the exit door and hand out the food in a box or a bag,” he said.

Christ House in Alexandria plans to continue their evening meal for the homeless and hungry but has switched to bagged meals. The hybrid food pantry, soup kitchen and men’s shelter recently ran out of hand sanitizer and other disinfectants. Catherine Hassinger, Catholic Charities director of community services, hopes volunteers can bring more soon.

The Paul Stefan Home, an organization that runs residences for mothers and children in Orange and Unionville, is requesting supplies and monetary donations. “We believe the best way to be prepared is to have a two-month supply of certain items on hand in case they become unavailable such as formula, feminine hygiene pads, hand sanitizer and toilet paper,” the organization said in an email.

In a special edition of his “Walk Humbly Podcast,” Bishop Burbidge asked the faithful to use this time to grow closer to God. “None of us wanted our schedules to be freed up, certainly (not) in this way, but use (this) time in a productive way for yourself, for your relationship with the Lord, and in help to others,” he said. He also requested people pray a prayer during this time of crisis. 

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“When there is stress or panic in the world, we have to be signs of faith,” said Bishop Burbidge. “If our faith is strong and we believe in God’s goodness and power, we should reflect in the midst of this crisis our own sense of confidence and serenity. As we’re reminded in sacred Scripture, we should always be ready to explain the reason for our hope and that hope is in the Lord.”

Watch a televised Mass

See what parishes in the diocese are doing here. Watch the weekly televised Mass from the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Sunday from 10:30-11 a.m. on WDCW-50. Watch the basilica’s Sunday Mass at noon via livestream. Watch the daily Mass from EWTN.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020