Attendance low, but faith deep amid COVID-19 concerns


BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — Worshipers at St. Joseph Cathedral took the bread, but no sips from the chalice. They faced the same direction, but didn’t hold hands. Hand sanitizer filled in for holy water. And the pews had plenty of space.

St. Joseph — which typically welcomes some 250 parishioners each Sunday — had fewer than 100 on hand for this weekend’s mass. The smaller-than-usual turnout comes days after Gov. John Bel Edwards halted gatherings in the state of 250 people or more, in an effort to limit the new coronavirus’ spread.

“Take that new space we have, and give God new ways to work in our lives,” Baton Rouge Bishop Michael Duca told his flock.

On Friday, Duca issued Baton Rouge area Catholics a 30-day dispensation from attending mass. The elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are considered most vulnerable to COVID-19, which has hit more than 100 Louisiana residents so far.

Duca encouraged those unable to attend Sunday mass in person to watch on Cox Channel 15 or online.

“Maybe [gather] through some kind of social media, or maybe a few friends together to share the word of God,” Duca said after his 10:30 a.m. mass. “The desire for God in our life should come from within, not be an obligation. In fact, in some ways, we’re free to see the quality of our faith.”

The Diocese of Baton Rouge will decide Tuesday whether to keep holding mass amid the outbreak.

“We’re talking about a couple of months we may have to withdraw from mass for a while,” Duca said. “We need to put those into solidarity with those who can’t have mass because their country’s being torn by war.”

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