Photo by Michael Swan

‘Temporary’ Mass freeze for New Brunswick and P.E.I.

  • January 21, 2022

Churches in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island will be closed this weekend as the Martime provinces grapple with increased cases of COVID-19 due to the Omicron variant.

It’s the second weekend in a row that New Brunswick churches will be closed as the province remains in level three — the most severe — of the provincial COVID-19 alert system. This threshold stipulates indoor Masses are not allowed, though parishes can host outdoor, live-streamed or in-car services.

Saint John Bishop Christian Riesbeck wrote in a letter to the faithful “that this is only temporary, for the next few weeks until Jan. 30, 11:59 p.m.”

P.E.I. initiated new pandemic measures Jan. 19, closing churches until at least Jan. 31. The new measures come as Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.’s chief public health officer, told media Jan. 18 that eight active hospitalizations, half in intensive care, influenced this decision, especially due to the province only possessing 20 ICU beds provincewide. The stricter measures — including an indoor dining ban, gym closures and single-household private gatherings — are intended to avoid breaching that limit.

P.E.I. also recorded its first three COVID-19 related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic within the past week.

"That's why these aren't easy decisions … it's really just gut-wrenching and I know I was hoping, the premier was hoping, we all were hoping we wouldn't be in this situation," Morrison said.

"This will not be long term, but I think it's what we need to do now."

Dioceses in both provinces are asking churches to continue serving parishioners through virtual services. Riesbeck urges priests to offer daily Mass even though face-to-face indoors is forbidden. He encourages congregants to “develop and strengthen the domestic Church, your family, through devotions and prayer within your home.”

Fr. Chris Sherren, the chancellor for the Diocese of Charlottetown, advised parishes to pivot to streaming masses if possible.

Meanwhile, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Jan. 20 that the province “can be confident” that the worst of the Omicron wave is in the rearview mirror, and his government seeks to “cautiously and gradually ease public health measures.” The province unveiled a new three-phase reopening plan intending to end all indoor gathering restrictions by March 14.

Phase one  launches  Jan. 31. However, the 50-per-cent capacity remains the same for places of worship. And according to the Archdiocese of Toronto website, the layout of most member churches restricts “worshipping at roughly 30-per-cent capacity on the weekends.”

If all goes well, on Feb. 21 churches can welcome as many people as physical distancing protocol allows.

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