In the lead-up to Easter celebrations, Archbishop Jason Gordon has chided some parishes for flouting COVID-19 protocols, saying one confirmed case originated in the church.
In a letter dated March 24, which Guardian media obtained a copy of, Archbishop Gordon revealed that as a result of the latest warning from health officials about a rise in cases, the Washing of the Feet, all processions and the kissing of the statue and cross will not be allowed during this year’s Holy Week festivities.
“Several calls have been received by some members of the Archdiocesan HSE Team and also by me, to state that certain parishes are flouting the COVID-19 protocols issued by the Ministry of Health and by our HSE Team,” Gordon revealed in the letter.
He added, “For the sake of the common good, I urge you to recommit to the strict protocols that have kept us safe thus far.”
This week, Ministry of Health officials confirmed that a recent COVID-19 case had been an individual who was not feeling well and still went to church. They did not identify the patient’s faith but confirmed they left the country of Caroni, which has seen a warring recent spike in cases and went to Port-of-Spain to attend service.
With the current spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, Gordon implored all members of the clergy to ensure strict guidelines are kept.
“It is vital that we set a very high standard of safety, pastoral care and liturgy in all our parishes. I take this opportunity to request all members of the clergy to familiarise themselves and the faithful, with the COVID-19 guidelines to ensure the safe conduct of masses and services. This is particularly important in the upcoming Holy Week when attendance at masses and church services traditionally increases,” he said.
While all the guidelines are important, Gordon said special attention must be given to the wearing of face masks and physical distancing.
“To avoid members of the congregation sitting in pews/seats left vacant to facilitate physical distancing, no members of the congregation must be allowed to sit in those vacant pews/seats. It is recommended to use caution tape to prevent access to both ends of the pews,” he advised.
He also called on the ushers to pay particular attention to regulations.
“To avoid over-crowding, those wishing to attend masses or services must register in advance, either by way of the Calendly App or by contacting the parish office, either by telephone or in person,” Gordon said.
When registration for the maximum capacity based on physical distancing has been reached, Gordon said no further registration or attendance should be allowed.
“The names and contact information for all persons attending every mass and service must be recorded to facilitate contact tracing. Where air-conditioning units are used in a church building, windows must be left open to ensure adequate ventilation,” he added.
He said while all Good Friday processions are banned, the Way of the Cross can only be held inside the church.
“Those in attendance must remain in their pew. We need to find innovative ways of using technology to stream the Way of the Cross on Friday morning. Veneration of the Cross—during the liturgy on Good Friday evening, this could be done in the traditional manner, only by the priests,” he added.
He noted that the congregation must observe the six-foot physical distancing and those who venerate should do so only by bowing or genuflecting.
“Mass on Holy Saturday begins with all faithful remaining in their places in the church. Only the minister and servers are allowed around the fire for its lighting. The time limit for any mass or service has been set at one hour and thirty minutes,” he said.
He also told his priests that they must all act responsibly and avoid risks to parishioners and the wider public.