Members of a hazardous material team prepare to enter the apartment Oct. 13 of the health worker who was infected with the Ebola virus at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Nina Pham, a Vietnamese Catholic nurse, contracted the deadly virus w hile treating a patient at the hospital. A prayer service was held Oct. 12 for Pham at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Fort Worth, where she and her family are active members. CNS photo/Jaime R. Carrero, Reuters

Ebola prompts hands-off Mass in Fort Worth, Texas

By  Lauren Markoe, Religion News ServiceThe Blood of Christ will not be offered during Mass. The Host will be placed in the hands, not on the tongue. And the faithful should not hold hands while reciting the “Our Father.” These are but a few of the guide
  • October 18, 2014

The Blood of Christ will not be offered during Mass. The Host will be placed in the hands, not on the tongue. And the faithful should not hold hands while reciting the “Our Father.”

These are but a few of the guidelines the Diocese of Fort Worth — not far from the Dallas hospital where three Ebola cases have been diagnosed — has sent to its parishes to calm fears about the deadly disease and to prevent the spread of flu.

While the diocese is perhaps the first in the United States to send around such a memo thanks in part to Ebola, such restrictions are common during flu season in Catholic and other churches that offer Communion.

“It’s the same guidelines we have used in past years,” said Pat Svacina, communications director for the Diocese of Fort Worth. “This is just a normal thing. There is no panic whatsoever.”

Nina Pham, the nurse diagnosed with Ebola Oct. 12 after having helped to treat the first patient ever diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, belongs to a Catholic church in east Fort Worth. But Svacina said that she has not been to the church since August, likely because she works weekend shifts, and that her family members, who also attend the church, were not in physical contact with her when her symptoms appeared and she became potentially contagious.

A second nurse who works at the same Dallas hospital with Pham, Amber Vinson, was diagnosed with Ebola on Tuesday. She also treated Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who died of Ebola.

The Diocese of Dallas has not issued similar guidelines, but Ebola is much on Bishop Kevin Farrell’s mind. On his blog, he offered prayers for the health care workers grappling with Ebola, expressed confidence in local health care authorities and wrote that “this is a time for our community to respond with calmness and compassion.”

Among other precautions issued by the Diocese of Fort Worth:

- Share the “Sign of Peace” without touching or kissing, perhaps with a smile, or “meaningful eye contact” or “a bow of the head.”
- Priests should use an alcohol-based solution on their hands before and after distributing Holy Communion.
- Priests should not distribute Holy Communion if they feel ill, and should discourage parishioners who feel sick from coming to church.

The federal government is trying to include faith communities in its efforts to prevent the spread of Ebola, inviting them to join in a conference call Saturday with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency charged with the response to Ebola within the United States.

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