The Catholic Free Press- Last Weekend Masses Before Suspension

March 16, 2020

By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press

    The coronavirus didn’t stop some Catholics – within and beyond the Worcester Diocese – from attending Masses here last weekend.
    With added precautions.
    And messages of encouragement.
    Members of the Spanish community at St. John Paul II Parish in Southbridge didn’t let the virus scare stop them from acting out the Gospel of Jesus meeting the woman at the well.
    Before Mass Father Kenneth R. Cardinale, the pastor, asked those assisting him how to say coronavirus in Spanish.
    He told The Catholic Free Press that people were being asked to leave space around them, but some crowded together in the front pews anyway. Other precautions were the absence of holy water and distributing Communion in the hand, he said.

    Two noon Masses in Spanish were celebrated at St. Paul Cathedral – double the usual number. After Mass Elizabeth Peña, a parishioner at St. Paul’s, talked about the virus’ impact on her sister, who lives in Framingham. Framingham is part of the Boston Archdiocese, where Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, OFM Cap., has temporarily suspended all daily and Sunday Masses due to the virus.
    Mrs. Peña said her sister asked her if Masses were still being celebrated in the Worcester Diocese, and she said they were. (That changed Monday when Bishop McManus announced the suspension of all public Masses beginning March 17, until further notice.)
    “She came to the Mass this morning (Sunday) at 8:45 (at St. Paul’s) with her family,” said Mrs. Peña, who attends the noon Mass. “She was crying. She needed to receive Jesus. … It’s sad, but we know everybody has to take the precautions.”
    “For us it’s just another day,” said Widmark Donis, a member of St. Paul’s Sociedad del Santo Nombre (Holy Name Society), a men’s group in Hispanic Catholic communities. When it was pointed out that he was wearing protective gloves, he said that was because of taking the collection.
    Another man handed him and other people small bottles of holy water. That was in place of dipping their fingers in holy water fonts, which were covered over, said Edward Martinez, another Santo Nombre member.
    In three sections of the upper church, every other pew was taped off, making space between worshippers. One section was almost completely taped, but that didn’t stop people from sitting in some of those pews.
    Speaking of the two simultaneous Masses that had just ended, Mr. Donis said, “We want to limit the amount of people upstairs, so we had a Mass downstairs” too.
    About 100 people attended the Mass that Father Diego Buritica, the associate pastor, celebrated in the upper church. About three dozen were in the Cenacle with Father Hugo A. Cano, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry.
    “We were expecting more people, explained Deacon Francisco Escobar, who serves at the cathedral, adding that the noon Sunday Mass usually draws about 600.
    “We were kind of worried” that people would think the Masses were suspended, as they were in the Boston Archdiocese and Springfield Diocese, said his wife, Fanny Escobar. She said people found out by word of mouth that Masses here were being celebrated. Many do not use social media, “they just make a phone call,” she said.
    The Escobars said it was exciting having worshippers upstairs and downstairs simultaneously.
    “Instead of closing the church, we have the facility,” Mrs. Escobar said.
    Speaking of complaints against Bishop McManus for having Masses celebrated despite the virus, Mrs. Escobar said, “The disco places are open; the bars are open. There’s where they’re going to pick up the virus. We are with Jesus.” (Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker Sunday night ordered all bars and restaurants and schools in the state closed beginning March 17.)
    Cathedral rector Msgr. James P. Moroney said the 7:30 a.m. English Mass there drew twice the usual number of worshippers –140 instead of 70.
    Father Buritica said he asked worshippers at the noon Mass to be attentive to information in The Catholic Free Press and on Flocknote pertaining to the Church’s response to the virus.
    “And I invited them … to pray, to trust in the Lord, not to be afraid,” he said.
    “The virus should not stop us from interacting … from connecting,” Assumptionist Father Alex Castro, pastor of St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish in Sturbridge, told worshippers before the 6 p.m. Mass there Sunday.
    He urged them to take this as a call to be more faithful to God and more loving to one another, a message he said came from Bishop Broderick Soncuaco Pabillo, apostolic administrator of Manila in the Philippines.
    “I don’t have a great fear of it,” Michael Woodruff said of the virus, as he headed into Mass at St. Anne and St. Patrick. “I just think it’s important to come to church.” He said it was unfortunate that other church activities have been affected, and noted that his son is in the youth group and is preparing to be confirmed.
    “As long as the bishop shows up, we’re going to do it,” Joseph Krans, youth ministry director, said, in reference to the May 14 confirmation. “As soon as we’re released (from virus-related restrictions) we’ll do whatever catch-up we need to with classes.”

    Mr. Krans said about 250 people attended Lord’s Day Masses there last weekend, down from the usual 600. But some people from the Springfield Diocese came for the first time, and a Franciscan from New York City came with a friend from the Sturbridge area, he said.
    Mr. Krans said people from elsewhere learned that Masses here were not cancelled – through a Catholic Free Press Facebook posting that others shared.
    Darleen Farland, heading to Mass at St. Anne and St. Patrick, said it was nice that Bishop McManus allowed Masses to be celebrated in the Worcester Diocese, when they were cancelled elsewhere.