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Masses go on with fewer people in pews after Catholics granted dispensation

Parishioners during Mass at St. Agnes Cathedral in

Parishioners during Mass at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre on Sunday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Turnout was light Sunday for services at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, but the coronavirus outbreak did not scare away the several dozen Catholics who attended the 11 a.m. Mass celebrated by Bishop John O. Barres. 

Diocese of Rockville Centre officials dispensed Catholics from attending Sunday Mass this past weekend as well as the next two weekends, but churches remained open and schedules were largely unchanged. 

“They have been saying just use common sense, so we came here to praise the Lord,” said Lorrie Fusco of Rockville Centre, who attended the Mass with her husband, Joe, and their adult daughter Hope. 

The coronavirus epidemic exploded in the United States during Lent, the 40-day period before Easter, the most important holiday in the Christian calendar. While the diocese announced Friday that churches would remain open this weekend, Barres said attendance had been light at Masses on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. 

Diocesan officials, he said, were monitoring conditions throughout Long Island. “We are assessing things very carefully,” Barres said. “Monday morning, we will take a good look at the situation.”

Barres said Catholics who are sick, elderly or vulnerable should stay at home until the coronavirus crisis abates, and encouraged them to view Mass on the Catholic Faith Network, available on cable television and through the internet. 

The Archdiocese of New York announced Saturday that it is canceling all Masses in its jurisdiction, which includes Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island and several counties north of the city. The Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens, did not cancel Masses over the weekend but announced Sunday that it would cancel Masses beginning Monday. 

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St. Agnes Cathedral, the principal church of the diocese, may have been open Sunday, but Catholics who attended the 11 a.m. Mass noticed it was not business as usual. Barres warmly greeted churchgoers before the service but refrained from shaking hands. Joe Fusco also noticed that the Sign of Peace — a handshake symbolizing goodwill and brotherhood — had been eliminated. Holy water was not available in the cathedral’s fonts. 

Kathleen Murray of Rockville Centre said she believed the news media has whipped up hysteria with misinformation about coronavirus, and she was glad the cathedral had not closed. 

“I am healthy,” the 85-year-old woman said. “I have done everything I have been told. I’m washing my hands. I will not stop living my life. If I am going to get it, I’ll get it and I will beat it. It’s in God’s hands.”

Barres thanked doctors, nurses, public health officials and pastoral caregivers for the work they have done in easing suffering caused by the pandemic. In his homily, he said he had visited the intensive-care units of the six Catholic hospitals in the diocese. 

“The staffs there are dedicated, heroic and reflect the Good Samaritan face of Jesus to all they serve,” Barres said. “The presence of beautiful crucifixes in our Catholic hospitals give so much comfort and strength to our patients and staffs and their presence are critical to expressing the kind of Christ-centered and Catholic mission-inspired care our Catholic hospitals give.”

Robert DeVito and Amy Perez of Oceanside said they couldn’t justify missing Mass even if they didn’t have to attend. 

“Church is an important part of my life and Amy’s life,” DeVito said. “It’s not something we can skip.”

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