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The Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg has suspended public Masses for the Tampa Bay region in the wake of the public health crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Bishop Gregory Parkes announced the decision Wednesday in a letter and video to his flock of nearly half a million parishioners in Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Hillsborough and Citrus counties.
He said suspension of public Masses was made “out of deep pastoral concern for the most vulnerable among us” and “after prayer and discernment.” He asked that confirmations and other events be postponed, baptisms be performed only in emergencies and weddings and funerals limited to family members.
“We will provide other opportunities to remain in spiritual solidarity during this period,” Parkes said. “Remember that Christ abides with us and we can always be united in spirit and in prayer.”
The Archdiocese of Miami on Wednesday also suspended all Mass celebrations and other events.
The Rev. Len Plazewski of Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa had been preparing for such an eventuality. Christ the King's three priests will livestream Masses from the chapel in their rectory, he said.
"We had all of our communication pieces ready to go," Plazewski said, adding that he's already heard from parishioners who said they are looking forward to viewing the services.
The bishop's decision to cancel Masses for the public is understandable, he said.
"But it's really sad that the most important thing in their faith life, the Mass, the Eucharist, wouldn't be there,” Plazewski said. “It's not like a hurricane that is coming through and that in a week or so, you'll be back in some way to being normal.
“We don't know how long it will last."
Plazewski said he told the story at Mass this week of his family’s experience in Poland during World War II. On Sept. 9, 1939, the Nazis occupied their town, closed their church and sent their priest to a concentration camp. “They went for five years without Mass,” he said, but his family never lost their faith and continued to pray.
There's a responsibility to keep the faith alive even if there is no Mass, he said.
And it’s possible that the suspension could last through Easter — which falls on April 12 this year — the most important festival on the Christian calendar.
“I do think Holy Week and Easter are in jeopardy in terms of public celebration, but we just have to do our best, in our own way,” Plazewski said.
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Diocese spokeswoman Teresa Peterson said an announcement regarding the Chrism Mass and other public celebrations for Holy Week will be issued on or before March 27.
The bishop’s decision came after the most recent official guidance “to further limit gatherings,” he said. Parkes has asked priests to keep churches open for personal prayer.
The Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg, the “mother church” of the diocese, has routinely live streamed Masses and special programs. Those are being expanded this week.
“We’re just ramping it up and we’re live streaming continuously, 24/7,” the Rev. Alex Padilla said. When no Mass is being held, viewers will see the altar or tabernacle, or the Eucharistic monstrance — which holds the consecrated host that for Catholics is the real presence of Jesus, and an object of adoration for the faithful. Private Masses will be live streamed from the cathedral’s chapel, Padilla said.
“We are going to be reaching out on the internet, through social media, YouTube, with reflection videos, even messages with a lighter tone. We are being creative. We want to be a source of positivity and joy, too.”
Message from Bishop Parkes
Monsignor Robert Gibbons sent out this message on behalf of Bishop Gregory Parkes
Bishop Parkes has suspended the public celebration of Masses throughout the Diocese of St. Petersburg, effectively immediately, until such time as it can be determined that it is safe to return to normal schedules and public worship. Accordingly, our parishioners are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for as long as the suspension remains in effect.
Although we will not be having public Masses at St. Paul’s for the time being, the church building will be open for your personal prayer every day, (Sunday thru Saturday) from 8 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., where you will be able to pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the Tabernacle. You are also invited to pray in the Grotto Garden. Let us keep united in prayer during this difficult time.
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