San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller announced he will allow Catholic services to resume at more than 110 parishes starting Tuesday, May 19 with social distancing procedures in place.
The archbishop flew over San Antonio Monday afternoon to bless the city and pray for protection from the coronavirus pandemic..
VIDEO: San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller delivers an aerial blessing over the city and its catholic parishes as the bells of San Fernando ring during the pandemic.
— Joey Palacios (@Joeycules) May 11, 2020
The plane circled around 31 parishes in San Antonio and New Braunfels. A crowd gathered outside San Fernando Cathedral, the centerpiece of the city’s parishes. The archbishop’s plane flew past the cathedral multiple times as the bells rang.
Outside the cathedral, Oscar Camacho who attends service regularly at San Fernando was observing the flyover.
“It’s a wonderful gesture on (the archbishop’s) part to bring his family together,” Camacho said. “He’s a very religious man and I know he’s very thoughtful about how we need to take care of each other during this time.”
Camacho said he supported the archbishop’s decision to reopen.
“To be in a crowded venue is not my choice but if we can keep our distance in a church setting or a park ground or in a public space, I think we’ll realize that that’s the only way we’re going to be normal again,” he said.
After the flight, the archbishop admitted the pandemic is not over, but he believes churches will bring hope.
“I never thought that I will be, in my lifetime, seeing something like that, that we needed to close the church for safety — but we have done it, and today they are open,” he said.
Starting next Tuesday, the parishes of the archdioceses may reopen to the public. Mass will resume the weekend of May 23.
“It is also very fitting that this flight is taking place in the month dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, just a day after Mother’s Day celebrations which already paved the road for hope,” Garcia-Siller said.
The announcement to reopen comes as Texas reports around 40,000 cases of COVID-19, and that number grows by about 1,000 cases every day. There have been 1,100 deaths statewide. On Monday night, Bexar County reached 1,920 confirmed cases of the virus and 57 deaths.
Since Texas closed non-essential services in late March, religious liberty groups have called on the state to allow church services to continue. In response, Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued guidance that allowed churches to continue services and deemed them an essential service.
Local municipalities in San Antonio have recommended churches conduct distanced services via the internet.
During the nightly COVID-19 briefing, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he had nothing but positive compliments to give to the archbishop and other faith communities.
“They have been proactive and collaborative with us through this entire process,” Nirenberg said. “In fact, I remember the archbishop made some significant changes to services way before we even were in a work-from-home type of situation.”
The archbishop detailed what social distancing procedures the parishes in the San Antonio Archdiocese would observe.
Those include the requiring of face masks and six feet of distance between parishioners, with additional space between elderly attendees. Sanitizers would be made available in sanctuaries, and specific guidelines would be issued for priests, deacons and other church staff.
“Between masses, the whole place will be sanitized,” the archbishop said, adding further social distancing guidelines would be made public on Tuesday.
When asked about reopening as Texas continues to see additional cases, the archbishop said the archdiocese is following the directions of the experts.
“If a difficult situation comes or the wave comes back we will have to change gears too,” he said.
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