By Rebecca Aguilar
Catholics in nine North Texas counties will not be able to go to public masses at their places of worship until March 30 after Bishop Edward Burns canceled Mass for more than one million Catholics in North Texas in hopes of keeping them safe from the coronavirus.
“In order for all the Catholic faithful to be at in peace and to live without any anxiety as well as remove any conflicted consciousness of whether or not they should attend mass these days as the Shepard of the Diocese and out of affection for the faithful, I make this decision so they can remain healthy and strong.”
The Diocese has been working closely with Dallas County officials since the county banned events with more than 500 in attendance in efforts to stop the spread of the COVID-19. Bishop Burns said it was not an easy decision to make, but he knew that devoted Catholics would continue to attend Mass if he did not take safety measures.
“My goal as the Bishop is to make sure the faithful are safe from the disease and that this decision gives them a sense of peace. So they can be safe from all distress or anxiety regarding these days of emergency,” he explained.
Catholic Schools in the Dallas Diocese will be closed and moved to online or remote learning until March 27. Sunday Mass will be offered via live video streaming. The Bishop said worshippers could watch safely from home on their computers or mobile devices.
The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth will have Mass for Catholics in 28 counties, but Bishop Michael Olson says they are taking safety measures because of COVID-19. The Bishop posted a statement Friday on the Diocese Facebook page: “It is the responsibility of priests to ensure that our parishes continue to offer Masses, especially during a time of crisis.”
Tarrant County officials, in declaring a local public health emergency disaster on Friday over the coronavirus pandemic, are discouraging events where more than 250 people are expected to gather, including church services.
Taking that declaring into consideration, Bishop Olson laid out a plan for priests what also includes having more Masses on Sunday to keep the congregation smaller and encouraging the sick to stay home. “To stay home from Sunday Mass in these circumstances is not a mortal sin,” he said.
Friendship-West Baptist Church in Southern Dallas County will be closed to the public, and Sunday worship services will be video streamed via the church’s website and Facebook Live to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. The church’s pastor, Dr. Freddie Haynes, reached out to his congregation via the church’s website, Facebook, text blasts, and emails.
“We ask that you be prayerful for the entire world as we battle this together,” he said.
Friendship-West has also provided members with a fact sheet to answer frequent questions about COVID-19 and the church’s actions to stop the spread of the virus. “God is greater than the coronavirus! God can heal! Please pray for our most vulnerable population,” said Pastor Haynes.
North Texas church leaders hope that worshippers will be able to attend services again in public by Easter. But right now, they wait to see when and if the spread of the coronavirus can be slowed down or stopped.
Bishop Burns reminded the public that the disease is not God’s fault. “This is not an act of God. It is an act of nature. God does not desire that people get sick, suffer, or die, and the root of this is made abundantly clear in the upcoming celebration of Easter.”