WINDSOR TERRACE – Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio is looking ahead to a time when churches will swing open their doors and once again welcome parishioners for masses.
Preparing for post-coronavirus life in the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Bishop has formed a special committee to help him develop a roadmap detailing how churches will be able to reopen and what changes will be necessary to the Mass.
Bishop DIMarzio has tapped Joseph Esposito, the former commissioner of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and the retired chief of department in the New York Police Departments, to chair the committee.
The Diocese’s 211 churches in Brooklyn and Queens have been closed since March 20.
The idea behind the formation of the committee is to have a plan in place in the event Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifts his New York Pause order and allows life to return to some sense of normalcy, according to Bishop DiMarzio.
“We want to be ready. We’re trying to be ahead of the game” he said in an interview with the Tablet and Currents News on May 4.
“We’re going to be following the lead of the governor and the mayor. When they give the word, we want to be ready to go,” Esposito told The Tablet.
Bishop DiMarzio and Esposito have already consulted and are seeking members to join the committee, including ex-cops, medical experts and people with experience in government.
There is a lot to consider, according to Esposito, who said seating in churches will likely have to be limited in order to adhere to social distancing rules that will almost certainly still be in place even after New York PAUSE is lifted.
For one thing, parishioners will be asked to sit six-feet apart in church. And each row of pews containing parishioners they probably be separated by rows of empty pews.
Esposito, who normally attends mass at Saint Athanasius Church in Bensonhurst, visited the church last week with a tape measure to see how many people could theoretically fit in a pew and by extension, how many can fit in church.
Bishop DiMarzio has asked his pastors to study the physical layout of their churches to determine occupancy with social distancing. “This is a logistics operation,” he said.
Parishioners will have to get used to churches with a whole different look, the Bishop said. “It may not be like what it was in the past,” he said.
Parishioners will probably be required to wear face masks and gloves to avoid the possible spread of COVID-19.
Also under discussion: asking pastors to open their auditoriums with a video feed to accommodate an overflow of parishioners, determining if parishioners’ temperatures will have to be taken to see if anyone has a fever, how Communion will be distributed, personal protection equipment for priests and appointing additional ushers to help supervise the number of people allowed into church.
The diocese will have to work out the logistics of Mass, Communion, Confession and the Anointing of the Sick. “We are taking extra precautions with the sacraments,” Bishop DiMarzio said.
Safety is paramount, both Bishop DiMarzio and Esposito said.
The committee does not have a strict timetable. “We’re going to have to do it the right way. We’re not going too fast,” Esposito said.
Esposito, who has decades of experience handling emergencies, expressed confidence that the committee will come up with a workable plan to help the Diocese of Brooklyn return to normal. “Nothing here is insurmountable,” he said.
The fact that the reopening of churches is even being talked about is a hopeful sign, Bishop DiMarzio said. He described “a sense of hope and relief” in the discussions he has held so far.
As the leader of Brooklyn’s 1.5 million Catholics, he has had to work within the restrictions of the governor’s stay at home order so that he could minister to the faithful and look after his priests in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
“Thank God for the Internet and Zoom calls,” he said. “It’s not what we’re used to, but we make due in times of crisis. We’re all in the same boat in a sense.
To read the latest updates regarding coronavirus concerns in the Brooklyn Diocese, go to https://thetablet.org/coronavirus.