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Pray-At-Home: How two women were confirmed hours before NYC shut down

New York City, N.Y., Apr 8, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Charlotte Price and Ellen Rogers thought they would be getting confirmed together on April 11, the Easter Vigil, at St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan. They thought they would have a crowd of their friends with them, and they thought they would be able to celebrate immediately with their loved ones.

None of that happened.

Thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City, the Archdiocese of New York suspended the public celebration of Mass on March 14, meaning that the chances of an Easter Vigil liturgy a month later looked pretty slim. So the Dominicans who taught Price and Rogers’ RCIA classes did what they did best: improvised.

And that is how, over the course of one year of discernment, prayer, and RCIA, Price went from having never been to Mass to being confirmed at a private one; and from never knowing a religious sister to having an audience of 12 of them at her confirmation Mass.

Raised a Congregationalist in Massachusetts, Price, 34, found herself outside of any sort of religion for about two decades. Her journey to the faith took many twists and turns, but she eventually found herself at St. Vincent Ferrer, and emailing Fr. Joseph Martin Hagan, O.P., the newly-ordained priest who was in charge of RCIA.

Rogers’ journey to the Catholic faith was nearly the opposite of Price’s--she had always been religious, and had even attended Catholic Mass for years.

Raised an Anglican in Texas, Rogers attended the University of Dallas, where she began to feel the call to enter into full communion with the Church around the age of 19. About four years later, after moving to New York City last June, she began that journey in earnest, and signed up for RCIA at St. Vincent Ferrer.

Neither sought out St. Vincent Ferrer due to its connection with the Dominican Order--the church is the location of the headquarters of the Eastern Province--but both grew to appreciate the Dominican friars at the parish.

Rogers was told by a friend that St. Vincent Ferrer was “the most beautiful church in the city,” which prompted her to take a visit.

“I just fell in love with the liturgy and saw they had a big sign outside like ‘email for RCIA,’ and I said, ‘okay.’”

Price told CNA that before attending St. Vincent Ferrer, she did not know what a Dominican friar was, and thought the name  was a reference to the Dominican Republic.

“I was like, ‘is it gonna be in Spanish?’” she said, laughing. After learning that Mass was, in fact, celebrated in English at St. Vincent Ferrer, she began attending regularly.

The two both told CNA that their RCIA journeys went relatively smoothly--until the first cases of COVID-19 were found in the city and churches around the world began shutting their doors and suspending public Masses.

“I probably started thinking ‘this might not happen’ very early,” Price said. “I think I remember the first time I thought, ‘oh, this probably isn't going to happen’ was Ash Wednesday. And at that point, everyone said I was being ridiculous.”

She said that she took the news of the likely cancelation of Easter Vigil very hard, particularly because she feared the possibility of dying without being confirmed, receiving the Eucharist, or going to confession.

“I was very upset,” Price told CNA. “I mean, I didn’t blame the Church or anything, but especially since I had a much longer period away from any church--like I spent 20 years probably not going to any church at all--so for me, I was like, ‘Oh, I finally figured it out,’ I finally said ‘yes’ to Christ, and now I’m not going to be able to even to join the Church.”

She said because she had read news reports about healthy people her age that were dying of COVID-19, she was particularly concerned about getting her spiritual affairs in order in case she contracted the virus.

“All of a sudden, my mortality is right there,” she said.

“Before, I was like, ‘I’m fine waiting,’” she said. “Whatever God has in mind. But then I was like, if I die, and I haven’t been confirmed, I haven’t gotten to confess my sins, I just absolutely do not want that to happen.”

Price quickly sprung into action, and arranged her first confession. Rogers soon followed suit.

When it became clear that New York was going to implement some sort of shelter-in-place directive, St. Vincent Ferrer moved quickly to accommodate as many people from their RCIA class as possible, but within the city’s guidelines regarding social distancing and canon law. Price responded to the email first, and was confirmed in a private Mass.

The audience was just six friends--the number she was told she could invite--and 12 members of the Sisters of Life, who “sang beautifully,” said Price.

Music, she explained, was one of the things that drew her to the Church, so the experience of getting a private choir at her confirmation Mass was “amazing.”

Fr. Hagan, who celebrated the Mass, preached a homily that was entirely about Price’s journey to the faith. Price took Mary, the Mother of God, as her confirmation saint.

Rogers, who was confirmed at a separate Mass with several others, took St. Catherine of Bologna as her confirmation saint.
Rogers told CNA that her first time receiving the Eucharist was “amazing,” even though it was extremely unusual. Due to archdiocesan regulations aimed at preventing the spread of disease, the candidates had to receive the Eucharist by intinction, which means that the Host was dipped in the Precious Blood before it was given to the communicant.

“All of us were kneeling in the first pew, and Father just came to each of us and brought the sacrament to us,” Rogers said.

“So we were still kneeling, and I will never forget the Precious Body being dunked in the Blood and then looking up and seeing it, and for the first time ever seeing the flesh and blood together and it had never been so real,” she said. “That is the literal flesh and blood of my Savior, and He had just never been so personal, and so real.”

As someone who was raised Anglican, and whose family is very involved in the Anglican communion—her brother is an Anglican seminarian--Rogers said coming to terms with the differences between the communion and rituals she participated in as a child and those in the Catholic Church was one of the hardest parts of her journey into the faith.

“I just decided, it is not for me to worry about anymore,” she said, but she continues to pray that her family will join her across the Tiber.

Both women told CNA that they cried at different parts of their confirmations. For Price, it was when she received the Eucharist. For Rogers, it was when she was reciting the Profession of Faith.

“There's like a single sentence in the (Profession of Faith), ‘I confess and believe everything that the Holy Roman Catholic Church teaches,’ and it was just that, that one sentence that I could feel my voice trembling and just the single, like, soap opera tear down my cheek,” she said 

“And I was like, hold it together. Hold it together.”

One of the six people Rogers invited to her confirmation was Price, who called the experience “such a gift.”

At that Mass, “I could actually receive Communion for the first time like a normal Catholic,” said Price.

She does not yet know when she will be able to do that again.

The continued suspension of public Masses has not been easy for neither Price nor Rogers, but both said that they have taken immense comfort in their last-minute reception of the sacraments.

As someone who regularly attended Catholic Masses before she was received into the Church, Rogers said that she had been “surprised” by how it felt to watch live-streamed Masses as a freshly confirmed Catholic.

“There's almost less distance now than there has been,” she said.

“Just the grace of having received the sacraments, and there's of course longing and sorrow for not being physically present, but knowing that ‘I have received the sacraments. I am in a state of grace. I can recite the act of spiritual communion.’ There is this sense of ‘I am part of the universal Church,’ and that can never be taken from me.”

Price said knowing that she was “really part of a community now” has helped ease her feelings of isolation and loneliness.

“I mean, I'm an only child, but now I have brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere,” she said.

Bishops can do more to provide sacraments despite coronavirus fears, open letter claims

Denver, Colo., Apr 7, 2020 / 05:46 pm (CNA).- In the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, the nationwide shutdown of Catholic churches has halted regular Mass attendance and impeded access to other sacraments for the Catholic faithful. Now, some Catholics have endorsed an open letter asking the Catholic bishops to do everything possible to make the sacraments more available.

“We don’t absolutely need to have the Eucharist, but we want to be in the presence of the Eucharist, we want to have Mass said. We want adoration, we want processions, we want all these things,” she told CNA April 2, describing the goals of the open letter and its supporters.

“We're putting our emphasis on the last rites, the Anointing of the Sick, and Mass and Adoration,” said Smith, a retired professor of moral theology at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary. For her, the greatest concern is what she says is “the failure to work extremely hard to make certain that those who are sick and dying can receive the anointing of the sick.”

“Most concerning is the refusal by at least one bishop to permit his priests to give the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick,” Smith told CNA. “I am impressed with one order who offered to make it more available even to those who are not terribly sick. The sacrament does have the power to heal and strengthen.”

Amid the pandemic, some American dioceses have allowed pastors to administer some sacraments and devotions in conformity with government rules banning large assemblies of people. Some priests have implemented “drive-through” confessionals or “drive-in” Eucharistic adoration and benediction.

Some bishops have regularly livestreamed messages and Masses, or adore the Eucharist in public view on cathedral steps.

Other bishops have had a more cautious reaction. Some have locked all church buildings in their diocese, and have attempted to bar the administration of all sacraments except in danger of death, even if not required by law or public health recommendation to do so.

“The precipitous closing of the churches is very concerning.  In Rome within 24 hours after they were closed, they were reopened. In those places where the law has decreed that people must stay home, we should abide, but if churches can be open, they should be. Surely we can ensure that for private prayer and adoration, people can remain 6 ft apart,” Smith said.

“The one size fits all policy seems very wrong headed. In small rural communities with no outbreak of the disease, more freedom to gather should be permitted than in urban communities that are being devastated by the disease,” she added.

For backers of the open letter, more needs to be done for the laity.

“Bishops, we, your faithful flock, implore you to do everything you can to make the sacraments more available to us during this crisis. Something is terribly wrong with a culture that allows abortion clinics and liquor stores to remain open but shuts down places of worship,” the open letter says.

“While safety and cooperation with civil authorities is necessary, we must do everything we can to have access to what is essential for our spiritual lives. We should certainly not voluntarily deprive ourselves of the sacraments.”

Smith said the bishops’ response to the coronavirus pandemic has been about about “trying to protect human life,” and the letter endorsers “share completely” that goal.

“We don't want anything to be done that isn’t following the guidelines,” she said.

The open letter encourages bishops to do everything possible t o provide some form of a public Mass, especially for the Easter liturgy, including offering it themselves.

It is unclear whether some gatherings, like “drive-in” Masses offered in parking lots while attendees sit in their cars, would comply with government bans on large public gatherings, a local bishop's ban on public Masses, or public health experts’ recommendations on social distancing.

The open letter asks bishops to “demand that civil authorities permit events such as offering and attending a Mass in a parking lot, if they are currently prohibited.”

Smith said if a state or local government ban on large public gatherings includes people going to a parking lot in their car to hear Mass, “that has to be fought.”

“We want the bishop calling up the governor and the mayor and calling up the legislators and calling up whoever, and saying 'No no no, this is freedom of religion that we have to be allowed to do',” she said.

“We are not asking for anything that would put our neighbors in danger. All due precautions would be observed. How can a parking lot Mass where everyone drives there in their cars and stays in their cars and where there is no distribution of the Eucharist put anyone at danger? That is one of our chief requests to be put under consideration.”

“There is absolutely no way that this relates to the spread of the virus,” Smith told CNA.

Asked if letter organizers had consulted with public health experts on their proposals, Smith said:

“We didn’t consult any, although we have heard from many who have provided more good ideas on what can be done. We are not proposing anything specific but are asking the bishops to do everything they can to provide the sacraments within the parameters determined necessary by experts.”

Smith herself raised and then answered the question of whether organizers should have gone directly to the bishops. She said “it's not possible.”

“They're busy with meetings, and it's hard to get through,” she said. “But if you do a petition that we hope thousands will sign, then I hope we get their attention.”

The open letter advocates that civil authorities recognize religious services as “essential services,” a move which some states have done amid stay-at-home orders.

Referring to emergency declarations' distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” employees and businesses, Smith said she is concerned “the Catholic world does not seem to understand that it is simply wrong to concede that religious services are 'non-essential'.”

“Yes, we can dispense with them as virtually everything can be dispensed with in certain conditions,” she said. “But the conditions we are in right now do not, at least as far as the experts tell us, require all that our bishops have done and have allowed to be done.”

In Smith's view, “the bishops are missing in action in clearly responding to the spiritual needs of their people.” She acknowledged that almost all bishops are streaming Masses on Sunday, saying this is “a good thing” but “not the most important thing.”

While she has seen many priests doing “very innovative things” to make available the sacraments and ensure the spiritual needs of their people are being met, she others are not visibly doing enough. Some, she said, were “almost denying sacraments before they needed to.”

“We need bishops who are trying as hard as priests are to attend to the spiritual needs of people,” she said. “They are making decisions that impact our spiritual lives and we need explanations of them. We need them to tell us how we can keep our spiritual lives alive.”

The “We are an Easter People” open letter said that if the government prohibits priests ministering to the sick in the hospital or their homes, bishops should “make a personal and formal request of civic leaders to permit such ministry with assurances that all due precautions will be taken.” They should find ways for priests to provide the anointing of the sick, “especially to those at risk of dying.”

While priests who minister to the sick are encouraged to take precautions like wearing personal protective equipment, such equipment has been the subject of a nationwide shortage. Smith acknowledged the shortage and said health care professionals should have priority for their use. In many places, she added, there is not a shortage. She added that an increase in manufacturing could eliminate a shortage before long.

The open letter lists more than 20 project endorsers, including Catholic commentators, video bloggers and others. More than 24,000 internet users had signed the letter as of Tuesday afternoon.

Project endorsers include Thomas Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute; former abortion clinic manager Abby Johnson; Phillip F. Lawler, editor of Catholic World News; and Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute; Catholic speaker Mary Beth Bonnaci, a Catholic speaker; podcaster Matt Fradd; author and movie producer Steve Ray; and Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh.

In mid-March 2020, after the coronavirus had begun to devastate Italy, Farr told CNA that bans on religious gatherings due to high rates of deadly infection can be justified, but may not target a particular religion or religion in general. They should be based on “overwhelming evidence,” with clear time limits.

“Speaking as a Catholic for whom the sacraments are not optional, and are necessary to health and welfare, however, I would hope that the Italian Church, or the Church in any jurisdiction would do everything it could reasonably do to make the sacraments available in ways that would be consistent with just authority,” Farr said.

“We invited people who have large followings in the Catholic community who would have an interest in having the sacraments and having their bishops explain their choices,” Smith told CNA.

One open letter endorser, Peter Kwasniewski, is an independent scholar who signed a 2019 letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy. Another endorser, YouTube video caster Patrick Coffin has expressed skepticism regarding of media reporting and the government response to the coronavirus.

In a March 28 YouTube video titled “The Truth About the Commie Virus,” Coffin discusses “media-fueled hysteria” and “hyperbole” about coronavirus models. They are “misleading, because they are incomplete,” he said in the video and its description. After presenting his interpretation of a medical journal article co-authored by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Coffin declared "We are burning the house down to kill a termite."

A March 24 video from Coffin is entitled “Did Pope Francis Help Cause the Covid-19 Pestilence?”

Project endorsers have “a wide variety of views,” Smith told CNA. “They are endorsing us; we are not endorsing all their positions.”

Both expert opinion and public opinion about the coronavirus response have changed in recent months. Two separate surveys from a Public Agenda-USA Today-IPSOS and ABC News-IPSOS suggest a vast majority of respondents now support canceling large-scale events. Most Americans now say they are avoiding large gatherings or crowds, and a significant minority now say they avoid religious services.

The letter’s request, Smith told CNA “is one that helps us grow in the virtues that enable us to do all the good things we should be doing now. We should speak of our love for Jesus and our need for Jesus. Our belief that He is truly there in the sacrament and just being close to him is a powerful experience of intimacy with the divine.”

 

 

 

 

 

Supreme Court takes pass on Washington archdiocese bus case

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the Archdiocese of Washington’s appeal to place religious ads on public transit in Washington, D.C.

The denial leaves in place the D.C. Circuit Court’s 2018 ruling against the archdiocese, which had sought a mandatory preliminary injunction to place ads on Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) trains and buses.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who heard arguments in the case at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in March of 2018 but did not join in authoring the opinion of the court in July, also did not partake in the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday.

WMATA first issued guidelines for advertisements on its buses and trains in November of 2015, in which it prohibited ads promoting religion or religious practices and beliefs.

In December of 2017, WMATA rejected an ad proposal by the Archdiocese of Washington during Advent that would have directed people to the archdiocese’s “Find the Perfect Gift” campaign website.

The website contained Mass times, Christmas and Advent traditions, and links to make charitable contributions to various Catholic groups. The archdiocese then went to court to have its ads featured in the WMATA transit system.

The D.C. Circuit Court ruled against the archdiocese in July of 2018, saying that the archdiocese failed to prove viewpoint discrimination in the case, or that WMATA had unconstitutionally violated the First Amendment by rejecting religious ads but allowing for secular ones.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, while respecting the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the appeal, credited it to the inability of the full Court to consider the case.

“Because the full Court is unable to hear this case, it makes a poor candidate for our review,” the justices stated on Monday.

However, they added, in their opinion WMATA engaged in “viewpoint discrimination” and violated the First Amendment by seeking out Christmas-themed advertisements but rejecting religious ones.

“No one disputes that, if Macy’s had sought to place the same advertisement with its own website address, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) would have accepted the business gladly,” the justices wrote.

“So the government may designate a forum for art or music, but it cannot then forbid discussion of Michelangelo’s David or Handel’s Messiah,” they continued. “The First Amendment requires governments to protect religious viewpoints, not single them out for silencing.”

Arlington diocese offers virtual pilgrimage for Holy Thursday

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- It is a pious Catholic tradition to visit seven altars of repose following Mass on Holy Thursday. With churches closed and strict social distancing in force in many places, one diocese has created a virtual pilgrimage to help Catholics offer their spiritual devotion during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Diocese of Arlington will stream a live “pilgrimage” on Thursday evening through its Young Adult Ministry Facebook page. In what the diocese believes to be the first event of its kind, those watching the stream will “visit” seven different churches in the diocese, where a priest will offer a brief reflection and the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament will be broadcast. 

Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry Niru De Silva told CNA that the idea for the virtual pilgrimage came after a young adult ministry coordinator asked his pastor if it would be possible to recreate the church walk online. The pastor then went to De Silva with the idea.

The virtual pilrimage will include the churches of St. Anthony's Mission, All Saints, St. Anne, the Nativity, St. John the Apostle, Sacred heart of Jesus, and St. Andrew.

De Silva said the concept reminded him of the recent Urbi et Orbi blessing given by Pope Francis, which was broadcast around the world. He said watching that blessing was a “special grace,” and that he was particularly touched to know that he was praying alongside not only Pope Francis, but everyone around the world who was watching the broadcast. 

After giving the idea of a virtual pilgrimage some thought and prayer, he realized that “there’s a special grace in this too.” 

“We can, while being socially distant, have our different priests just put on a video, give a little reflection, and show Jesus to the people.”

Now, more than normal, people need to see the example of Jesus’ suffering, said De Silva. 

“This is a time when a lot of us are feeling alone; there’s just lots of grief, sometimes agony and confusion. This is where Jesus in the scripture, relates to us in that. He was alone. He felt agony. And I think that can be really powerful for people.”

Unlike a traditional church walk, which requires that the churches be within close distance, the virtual pilgrimage will take “pilgrims” all over the diocese, De Silva told CNA. 

“Each parish is from a different deanery--all seven deaneries of our diocese,” De Silva explained. “In a way, where it would have been really difficult to do a truly dioesean pilgrimage going to all the different parishes, in a way, we’re kind of recreating that by ‘going’ to all of the regions of our diocese.”

He said that this aspect makes it “really special.”  The parishes were selected in part as they are already live streaming services and are already familiar with the technology to stream a video. De Silva hopes that this means the pilgrimage will be an “easy event to pull off virtually.” 

On the day of the pilgrimage, the stream will spend 15 minutes at each of the seven parishes, before switching to the next. The pastor at each parish will provide a reflection for about five minutes, and there will be 10 minutes of silent prayer. A prayer guide, printed in both English and Spanish, will be made available for download so that pilgrims can follow along with the evening. 

Most of all, De Silva hopes the virtual pilgrimage can serve as a way for people to feel connected during a unique and disrupted Lent. 

“I hope that it provides a sense of normalcy,” said De Silva. “I know that this is a tradition of the Church, and to not be able to go to Jesus at this time, I think there will be a sense of loss and grief.” 

By providing the virtual pilgrimage, the Arlington diocese hopes to offer a connection to usual Easter practices in unusual circumstances: “This thing that you used to do; it’s going to be different, but we’re still going to provide it to you,” said De Silva. 

De Silva also said that he hopes the pilgrimage can also be a way back to the faith who would otherwise never enter a church building and would never consider making a devotional pilgrimage.

“This is something that can almost be a passive experience, that they can just click into, and encounter something for the first time--which will hopefully then draw them in deeper into the life of the Church,” he said.

“That’s a huge hope of mine.”  

Christian leaders united in support of Oklahoma abortion order

CNA Staff, Apr 7, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic dioceses in Oklahoma joined other Christian leaders on Monday to ask a federal court to let stand a state order halting elective abortions during the pandemic.

“Abortion is not an absolute right,” said a friend-of-the-court brief filed April 6 by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, the Diocese of Tulsa, the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, leaders of the state’s Baptist churches, as well as an ecumenical group of faith leaders.

“States also have a duty to protect the health and safety of women who undergo this life altering procedure. That is why courts have upheld laws requiring waiting periods, ultrasounds, parental rights notifications for minors, and prohibitions against partial-birth abortions—even before viability,” the brief argued.

Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma issued an executive order halting non-essential surgeries and minor medical procedures in the state during the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) pandemic.

He clarified on March 27 that the order prohibited elective abortions, except in cases where the mother’s life or health was deemed to be at risk, among the non-essential surgeries that were to be halted. The order also stopped “routine dermatological, ophthalmological, and dental procedures, as well as most scheduled healthcare procedures such as orthopedic surgeries.”

On April 1, Gov. Stitt extended the order’s prohibitions until April 30. On March 30, Abortion providers in the state challenged the halt to elective abortions in court. On Monday, Judge Charles Goodwin of Oklahoma’s Western District Court put a temporary stay on Gov. Stitt’s order, allowing some abortions, including medication abortions, to continue.

The court’s restraining order is in effect until April 20, after which the court can let it expire or address the situation again. The brief, which was submitted on behalf of the faith leaders by Alliance Defending Freedom, argues that the state’s order should be allowed to go back into effect at that time.

For cases of women currently seeking an abortion who would not be able to “lawfully obtain an abortion” in the state by April 30, Judge Goodwin prevented the state from enforcing the governor’s order.

“Getting an abortion has never been an absolute right. The coronavirus didn’t suddenly turn it into one,” ADF Legal Counsel Elissa Graves stated. “Abortionists who seek to put their profit ahead of the well-being of women and staff who could be affected by COVID-19 shouldn’t be allowed to get away with their irresponsible demands.”

Goodwin acknowledged that the state could “impose some of the cited measures delaying abortion procedures,” during the public health emergency, but that it “acted in an ‘unreasonable,’ ‘arbitrary,’ and ‘oppressive’ way—and imposed an ‘undue burden’ on abortion access—in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion.”

Abortion providers, the Catholic and Christian leaders argued, should not be able to bring a case on behalf of women in the state because they are acting in their own self-interest.

Furthermore, they said, states are acting legitimately to curtail certain gatherings during the pandemic, and religious groups and churches are complying.

“As church communities voluntarily comply with prudential judgment of civil authorities, such governmental policies touch upon the constitutional and God given right to assemble for worship,” the brief stated.

“Everyone’s priority during this national crisis should be to protect vulnerable lives. Others seeking elective medical procedures are making that immense sacrifice. So are people of faith. So are public protestors. The abortion industry is demanding special treatment not to save lives, but to end them,” the brief stated.

Recovering from coronavirus, Archbishop Aymond says ‘become part of the story’ in Holy Week

CNA Staff, Apr 7, 2020 / 01:01 am (CNA).- Recovering from coronavirus, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is encouraging Catholics in a message for Holy Week to “become part of the story.”

“My sisters and brothers...we can be assured that this Holy Week will be one like we have never celebrated before,” Aymond said in his video message, posted on Facebook.

“With the coronavirus and all the ramifications, and the crosses and the crisis and the challenges this has caused, it will be a very different Holy Week,” he said.

But one thing never changes, Aymond added - Holy Week is a time for Catholics to immerse themselves even more deeply in prayer and “being (not) a spectator watching Jesus’ suffering and death and resurrection, but being a part of that story as it unfolds.”

Two weeks ago, on March 23, Aymond announced that he had tested positive for coronavirus and that he was in self-quarantine with mild symptoms. He was the first known U.S. bishop to test positive for the virus that has become a global pandemic.

On April 1, the archdiocese gave a brief update on its Facebook page, announcing that while the bishop remained self-quarantined at home he “continues to make good progress. He is feeling much better, and his fever is consistently reducing. His hope and prayer is to be able to celebrate the liturgies of the Holy Triduum and Easter,” services which will be televised and livestreamed.

“He thanks everyone for their prayers and assures all of his continued prayers for our community. In the midst of his recovery, he has not forgotten that the community is suffering and he remains close in prayer to all who are sick, those who care for the sick, those who are grieving, and those who are suffering with fear and anxiety,” the archdiocese’s update added.


The archbishop also continued to post video messages to his Facebook page during his recovery, updating Catholics on the latest coronavirus guidelines and encouraging them in prayer and faith. 

In his Holy Week message, he invited Catholics to become part of the story during Holy Week by choosing one of the Gospel narratives on Christ’s passion, death and resurrection prayerfully and slowly, and to immerse themselves in the story by choosing a character and looking at the scenes through their perspective.

“Perhaps sitting at the Last Supper, you can become one of the apostles,” Aymond said. “Perhaps you will be able to look at Peter as he is in the garden watching Jesus pray.”

“Perhaps we can become like Mary standing at the foot of the Cross, or like John standing next to her, or Veronica wiping his face as he is bleeding, or the women of Jerusalem as they are crying...or perhaps we can be Joseph of Arimathea, asking for the body of Jesus so that we can bury it in a very sacred way,” he added.

“If we do that, my sisters and brothers, we are not spectators of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, we become part of the story. And it is important that we always become part of the story to see God’s love and fidelity, but in a special way as we go through the coronavirus crisis,” he said.

The archbishop also encouraged Catholics to unite “our sufferings, our questions, our loneliness, our uncertainty about the future” to Christ’s sufferings this Holy Week.

In a previous video message, Aymond also asked that all churches in his dioceses ring their bells at 6 p.m. every day, as a reminder to Catholics to pray for healthcare workers on the front lines fighting the coronavirus.

“May the sound of the bells remind us to lift our prayers to God for many in this time of crisis, and in a special way for our health care workers who risk their lives for our protection. May our daily bells and prayer give worship to our God,” he said.

Federal courts uphold stay on Ohio elective abortion ban, block Oklahoma restrictions

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday allowed some surgical abortions and medication abortions to continue during the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) crisis. The decision was made in relation to a state-ordered halt to elective abortion procedures in Ohio for the duration of the pandemic.

Ohio had ordered a halt on surgical abortions as “non-essential” medical procedures during the new coronavirus crisis, before a district court in Ohio on March 30 put a temporary restraining order on that policy.

The court allowed for surgical abortions to continue in the state, but on a case-by-case basis. If abortions could not be safely postponed or conducted via chemical prescription, then they could occur, the court said.

On Monday, the Sixth Circuit declined the state’s appeal of the decision, saying it lacked jurisdiction, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

As the district court’s restraining order allowed abortions on a case-by-case basis and did not allow for a wholesale continuation of all surgical abortions, a three-judge panel for the Sixth Circuit wrote that “we are not persuaded” that the court’s order “threatens to inflict irretrievable harms or consequences before it expires.”

Ohio’s health department had ordered a stop to elective abortions, among other non-essential medical procedures, during the new coronavirus pandemic in order to preserve health care personnel and resources to treat the growing pandemic.

“While all Ohioans are being asked to make sacrifices in order to preserve innocent lives, the larger medical community is sacrificing the most: not only their time, but their equipment, their private practices, and potentially their own lives,” stated Stephanie Ranade Krider, Vice President of Ohio Right to Life, on Monday.

Also on Monday, a federal judge in Oklahoma blocked that state’s restrictions on elective abortions during the coronavirus outbreak from going into effect, CBS News reported.

Judge Charles Goodwin of the Western District of Oklahoma issued a temporary restraining order on the state’s act to stop non-emergency abortions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the state can take lawful “emergency measures” during the new coronavirus crisis, Judge Goodwin wrote, such actions should not be “a plain, palpable invasion of rights,” including of “access to abortion.”

He concluded that the state “acted in an ‘unreasonable,’ ‘arbitrary,’ and ‘oppressive’ way—and imposed an ‘undue burden’ on abortion access—in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion.” Regarding its ban on medication abortions, Goodwin said its “minor” contribution to public health is “outweighed by the intrusion on Fourteenth Amendment rights.”

On March 31, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay on a district court ruling, regarding Texas’ act to stop abortions except in cases where the mother’s health or life was at stake.

A district court had enjoined the state’s order from going into effect, but the Fifth Circuit put a temporary stay on that ruling to have more time to consider the case. The Texas order is back in effect for now.

Landlord encouraged by prayer waives rent amid coronavirus

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A Catholic landlord made the decision March 30 to waive April’s rent for all of his 200 tenants, in the hopes of giving them one less thing to worry about amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"I told them not to worry, not to panic, we're going through some very tough times with this monster disease," Brooklyn landlord Mario Salerno told EWTN News Nightly.

"My Catholic faith brought it upon me to make this decision. I pray every day, and when I have extra time, when I'm in quarantine, I pray and I ask the good Lord to please conquer this vicious virus.”

Salerno, 59, owns a mechanic shop, gas station, and an auto body shop as well as 80 apartments in Brooklyn. Many of his tenants have lost their jobs, he said.

"I wanted them to have some peace of mind, not worrying about where their next dollar was. As a human, I felt a lot more comfortable making sure they had food on their table, which several of them didn't, and I felt very honored to tell them that."

Salerno said he’s not overly concerned about the loss of his income— and more concerned about the human lives residing under his roofs. The financial losses are irrelevant to the value of a human life, and “I value people's lives," he said.

“At the end of my journey, when I go and meet the dear Lord and the dear master, I want to ask Him before he could ask me: 'Was I good? How was my faith?'" he said.

Salerno posted notices on all his buildings that April’s rent would be waived. Since then, many of his tenants have approached him offering to help to pump gas at his station, mop his buildings, and offer other help.

Salerno said he has encouraged his tenants to take care of their neighbors first. He said some are still working, and are willing to pay him rent, and he has encouraged them to put their rent money toward food instead.

"We need the good Lord. He can conquer this; we need to pray,” Salerno said.

Almost ten million people in the U.S have filed for unemployment insurance in the last two weeks, a period representing the most catastrophic job loss since the Great Depression. Economists have estimated that national unemployment rate is now roughly 13%, higher than it has been since the 1930s.

 

Christmas lights for Easter? Kentucky diocese encourages 'Easter Lights'

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2020 / 03:17 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Owensboro is encouraging Catholics to decorate their houses with “Easter lights” as a sign of solidarity and as a reminder that through Christ’s resurrection, “the light has come into our world and has conquered even death.”

“Though it is not possible for Catholics of our diocese to gather in our parish churches for the celebration of the Easter Vigil, we can still be united in our prayer,” an April 3 announcement from the diocese reads.

The Owensboro diocese suspended public Masses March 16 in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Many across our state and nation are putting up ‘Easter lights’ as a sign of solidarity during this time, so we invite all Catholics of Western Kentucky to engage in this project meant to communicate faith and hope to our neighbors and be a sign of encouragement and support to all who are suffering.”

Catholics are encouraged to display some kind of light – whether strings of Christmas lights, a candle in the window, or something else – on their property beginning at 8:00 PM April 11, Holy Saturday, through May 31, Pentecost Sunday.

The diocese also suggested that each night when people turn on their Christmas-turned-Easter lights, they also could light a candle and say a prayer for an end to the pandemic, recalling that the risen Christ  is the one who, in the words of the Exsultet, “sheds his peaceful light on all humanity.”

The announcement also recalled that the newly baptized receive a lighted candle, and are asked to “keep its flame burning brightly.”

“Let’s unite with one another in prayer this Easter season and remind one another and our neighbors that we are never beyond the reach of God. Let’s light up the world!”

Federal coronavirus financial relief: What Catholic groups need to know

Washington D.C., Apr 6, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- After the federal government clarified Friday that religious non-profits are eligible for small business loans during the coronavirus pandemic, legal experts have said the news could prove welcome relief for cash-strapped Catholic dioceses and parishes.

“The bottom line is that Friday’s rule is very good news for religious organizations,” said Eric Kniffin, a partner in the religious institutions practice group at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie law firm, about new federal guidance on coronavirus relief for religious non-profits.

“Parishes should coordinate with their dioceses before moving forward, but this is a huge relief to religious organizations as they seek to support their employees in the midst of this pandemic,” he said.

On March 27, Congress passed, and President Trump signed into law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which provided relief for businesses, non-profits and workers affected by the new coronavirus pandemic.

The law allows eligible non-profits to apply for small business loans. One of the requirements for loan applicants is that they have 500 or fewer employees, which made Planned Parenthood ineligible for the relief.

As some Catholic parishes and institutions have already begun cutting or furloughing employees during the economic downturn from the pandemic, the new federal relief was seen as a possible solution to help Catholic non-profits keep employees on payroll, but many groups had questions about their eligibility under the law’s provisions.

If the Small Business Administration considered Catholic dioceses along with all their related entities—such as parishes, schools, and charities—as one large non-profit entity governed by bishop, then many, if not all, dioceses would exceed the 500-employee limit to apply for relief.

However, if each Catholic parish, school, and charity were eligible to apply for a small business loan under the CARES Act, then it could be a significant boost to their ability to keep employees on payroll as donations dried up.

Over the weekend, the SBA published a document clarifying its new rule on the eligibility of religious groups for paycheck protection and economic injury loans during the pandemic.

While not all questions have been answered, ultimately the updated rule summary is “deferential toward religious groups,” Kniffin said, as “government is prohibited from second-guessing church’s interpretation of their own doctrine or ecclesiology.”

New affiliation rules for the SBA Paycheck Protection Program issued by the Treasury Department clarify that if a smaller entity—such as a parish—and a larger one—a diocese—are tied together on religious grounds, they do not have to be considered as one large entity.

"If the tie between your local entity and a larger entity is the result of your religious beliefs, then you do not have to count that tie when you are counting up your employees,” Kniffin said.

The SBA’s updated guidance is “a grace” for Catholic institutions, said Jeremy Reidy, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg, LLP who is also a member of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocesan review board.

Before the new rule was issued, “I don’t think any diocese across the country would have qualified [for small business loans],” Reidy said. The bishop “has ultimate control over everything” in a diocese including smaller entities such as parishes and Catholic charities, he said, and each diocese could have been considered by the government to be one big organization.

Yet the government now treats the smaller entities as separate from dioceses “so long as they’re tied together for religious purposes,” he said.

Not all dioceses are structured the same, Reidy cautioned. While in “the vast majority” of U.S. dioceses, the parishes and schools are separate non-profit corporations, in some other cases the diocese is the only incorporated entity.

In these select cases, Reidy said, a “potential obstacle” to a parish or school still receiving federal relief might be that they do not file payroll taxes and tax returns separately from the diocese, and thus would be aggregated into the diocese.

A tie between a parish and diocese that is “practical” and not just religious in nature might also pose an obstacle to their obtaining relief, Kniffin said.

Yet, both Kniffin and Reidy said, Catholic institutions should consider applying for the loans under a “good-faith interpretation” of eligibility.

As the rules are “deferential” to the eligibility of religious organizations, Kniffin said, lenders are also being directed “to accept applicants’ good-faith representations at face value.”

As long as Catholic groups have their own employer identification number and 500 or fewer employees, they could apply on their own.

“I think all dioceses, with this new regulation, can make that good-faith certification,” Reidy said.

In its guidance, SBA emphasized that non-profit loan recipients can have a religious mission, and will not be penalized for employing only people who abide by the religious mission of the organization.

Each recipient “will retain its independence, autonomy, right of expression, religious character, and authority over its governance,” SBA said. Loans can be used to pay the salaries of ministers and staff.

The new rules do require that loan recipients do not discriminate when they provide goods and accommodations to the public. Depending on the interpretation of existing civil rights protections, some charities might be ruled ineligible for loans because they do not provide services in certain cases.

Examples of this might include a religious adoption agency refusing to place children with a same-sex couple, or a homeless shelter refusing to house a man identifying as a woman with other women.

The SBA says it “will not apply its nondiscrimination regulations in a way that imposes substantial burdens on the religious exercise of faith-based loan recipients, such as by applying those regulations to the performance of church ordinances, sacraments, or religious practices, unless such application is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.”

This question of compliance with nondiscrimination provisions is one that religious groups are still asking about, Kniffin said.

Yet with a Catholic group providing social services, such as a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter, they most probably have received government funding and would thus would already be in compliance with federal regulations.

The ultimate goal of providing the loans, SBA added, is to ensure quick relief for many small businesses and non-profits which have been severely impacted by the recent coronavirus crisis.

The SBA loan is a “forgivable loan” that “can become basically a stimulus check” if non-profits abide by certain provisions such as keeping the same number of employees on payroll, Reidy said.

“It’s a great deal,” he said. “I encourage every organization to do it.”