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Coronavirus forces Brooklyn’s Catholic churches to cancel mass

March 16, 2020 Paula Katinas
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In times of crisis, people often flock to churches for solace. But the coronavirus pandemic is upending religious life in Brooklyn.

Just two days after announcing that churches would be open and that attending mass would be optional for Catholics, the Diocese of Brooklyn went even farther and canceled masses altogether. The diocese oversees Catholic churches in Brooklyn and Queens.

The diocese issued a statement on March 15 explaining Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio’s decision to mandate a complete moratorium on church gatherings during the fast-moving coronavirus crisis.

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“Given the continuing and growing concern about the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Bishop DiMarzio has determined that all public masses be canceled in the Diocese of Brooklyn, beginning Monday March 16, until further notice,” the statement read.

The ban includes weekday masses as well as Sunday masses.

“It’s a shame, but I understand why they’re doing it. They kind of have to,” one woman told the Brooklyn Eagle as she walked by Our Lady of Angels Church in Bay Ridge Monday morning.

The diocese had some advice for Catholics who might feel cut off.

“The obligation to keep the Lord’s Day holy can be fulfilled by maintaining a prayerful attitude and through personal and family prayer,” the diocese’s statement read.

Weddings and funerals can still go on as scheduled, but attendance is limited to family members.

The ban on masses came after it was learned that a person who attended mass at the Incarnation Church in Queens last week has been diagnosed with coronavirus. The church is undergoing a thorough cleaning, officials said.

Catholics can still watch televised masses on NET-TV. Check local listings to find the channel.

Here is the mass schedule:

  • Saturday – 6 p.m. Vigil pre-recorded from Immaculate Conception Church (English).
  • Sunday – 11 a.m. Live from St. James Cathedral (English).
  • Sunday – 1:30 p.m. Pre-recorded from Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph (Spanish).

As of March 16, there were 950 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York State, a dramatic increase from just the day before, when there were 729 confirmed cases. There are 463 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York City, an increase of 134 confirmed cases in under 24 hours. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said that he expects the state’s hospitals to be hit with a deluge of patients if New York can not slow the spread of the virus this week. Cuomo announced plans to increase the state’s hospital capacity by 9,000 beds on Monday by repurposing facilities like dormitories and former retirement homes.

Cuomo instated a ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people on Sunday and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all public schools would be closed from March 16 until at least April 20.

In the wake of de Blasio’s announcement, Thomas Chadzutko, superintendent of schools for the diocese, announced that all schools in the diocese, which closed on March 16, will remain shut until April 20.

“The decision to close is based on the inter-dependency of services between public schools and Catholic schools,” Chadzutko said.

Many families whose children attend diocesan schools depend on the city services like bus transportation, nurses and crossing guards, officials said.

“If there was a safe way for us to open sooner, we would, but we cannot function without those essential services,” said Joan McMaster, associate superintendent for principal and teacher personnel.


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