The Diocese of Trenton formed a task force to to develop a “phased approach” for “the reopening of churches for private prayer to the gradual restoration of our full Catholic and sacramental life.”
New Jersey has been one of the hardest-hit states by the coronavirus pandemic, prompting aggressive measures to mitigate the spread of the deadly disease. On March 9, Governor Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency after the first cases began to appear. By March 16, under the advisement of public health officials, Masses and all public gatherings were suspended. And by March 21, a statewide “stay at home” order was put into effect, closing all non-essential business and mandating that all citizens stay home except for essential purposes. And on April 1, all churches in the diocese were closed to the public.
As the spread of the disease slowed in the area and public parks and beaches began to reopen, church officials took the first steps towards reopening.
On May 8, Bishop David M. O’Connell, after consulting with a newly formed task force of pastors, issued a new directive, allowing for public access to the churches again. The task force’s recommendations require all public health guidelines to be strictly followed, and the opening of individual churches is at the local pastor’s discretion.
“It is not merely the ‘opinion’ of some people — well-intentioned or maybe not — that influences the decision to reopen. Most important is the expert advice of experienced public health officials who have cautioned us not to rush into reopening churches to the faithful before their safety can be assured or, at least, uncompromised, in the face of this virulent contagion. The Diocese of Trenton has carefully followed their advice,” said Bishop O’Connell in a statement.
“At the same time, however, we realize that the current state of affairs cannot stay as it is forever without some spiritual relief. In order to address this challenge, I have created a Post Pandemic Parish Task Force of Pastors, chaired by Msgr. Thomas Gervasio, vicar general, to develop a ‘phased approach’ from the reopening of churches for private prayer to the gradual restoration of our full Catholic and sacramental life.”
The news was taken as a sign of hope by those who have been longing to return to church. “I’m just so grateful to be able to just sit and be in the Lord’s presence again,” remarked a parishioner at St. Mary’s Parish in Barnegat.
“It’s great that we can watch the Masses on the internet, but to be able to be inside the church…it’s like going home again.”
The task force developed a comprehensive list of recommendations for the Bishop, which can be viewed here, (Diocese of Trenton Task Force Recommendations). The statement includes guidelines for social distancing, sanitizing of the buildings, and scheduling.
“Unless otherwise notified, these recommendations will take effect on Wednesday, May 13, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, or anytime following once pastors determine they can safely do so. We commend our efforts to Our Lady’s maternal care,” stated the Bishop.
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