The news has been inundated with reports about the spread of the coronavirus.
Comparisons have been made between this and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. I only know about that scourge through the history books.
I do know that we can’t blame the Spaniards for it. When I was growing up and saw my grandfather battling Parkinson’s disease, I was told that it may have been the result of his contracting that flu. I cannot conclude the veracity of that.
I leave it to the experts in immunology and the Center for Disease Control to offer advice on how to deal with what could be a pandemic or hopefully just an epidemic.
I know we cannot ignore COVID-19. As a pastor dealing with a large congregation who gather here every day, I have a responsibility to do my part to ameliorate the spread of this virus. At the same time I don’t want to create a sense of panic that would adversely affect the pastoral work that we do.
Last week I received a communiqué from the Office of Archbishop Gomez regarding COVID-19. It began with the following statement: “The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to be topic of concern in our communities. This week, the State of California declared a state of emergency to help the state prepare for and contain the spread of the virus. However, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) continues to advise that most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus and that the immediate health risk from COVID-19 to the American public is considered low.”
Much of the guidelines involved common-sense advice to reduce the spread of the virus.
The area where there is the greatest risk of this is where large groups of people gather, especially Sunday worship. This past weekend my parish made the following announcement: “During the current situation with the coronavirus outbreak, you are reminded to use good hygiene and the usual common-sense practices used during the cold and flu season. At the direction of Archbishop Gomez the use of the cup has been suspended until such time as the coronavirus is no longer a threat. The Eucharistic ministers and priest have been instructed to distribute Holy Communion only on the hand and not on the tongue. Please also refrain from offering your hand to others at the sign of peace and from holding hands at the Our Father.”
The Eucharistic ministers who distribute the precious bread have been instructed to use the hand sanitizer available near the altar immediately before Communion and not touch anyone after using it.
For my part immediately before Mass began, I scrubbed my hands thoroughly with soap and hot water in the vesting room and refrained from shaking anyone’s hands afterwards. How long did I scrub? Some suggested singing “Happy Birthday” to oneself twice. Instead, I said the Lord’s Prayer and kept scrubbing until I was finished. A more Christian way.
I am accustomed to shaking the hands of parishioners coming and going to Mass even if I am not the celebrant. This past weekend I chose to wear gloves but actually gave more fist pumps than usual.
In Italy I heard they canceled all religious services. I hope that the spread of COVID-19 does not get to such a stage that that would be needed. Meanwhile I will continue to monitor the situation and follow the advice of those who know much more than I.
Monsignor David Sork is Pastor of St. John Fisher Catholic Church, Rancho Palos Verdes. Masses are on Saturday evening at 5 p.m. and on Sunday at 7:30, 9:00, and 10:45 a.m. and 12:30 and 5 p.m. He can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.