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.
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