The Catholic Diocese of Brownsville has announced that all Masses in the diocese will be suspended until further notice due to the coronavirus or COVID-19.
The changes take effect at noon Thursday.
Bishop Daniel E. Flores announced the changes at a press conference Wednesday night at the Pastoral Center in San Juan.
Flores said the decision was made after consulting with local government and health officials, the Presbyteral Council of the Diocese and Eugenio Lira, the bishop of Matamoros, in addition to concerned Catholics.
“These measures are taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in our local communities,” Flores said in a press release posted on the diocese Facebook page. “It is essential that unnecessary movement and travel within the community be avoided whenever possible. The virus can spread to places visited by those infected, even if they are unaware of their infection. It is also essential that gatherings in even small groups, be avoided, whenever possible, as direct contact can also spread the virus.”
Flores said all churches will be closed and not open to the public.
“There are people, who I understand, will weep because they cannot go to Mass, which is a sign of great love and great faith,” Flores said at the press conference. “The Lord will not be away forever. He rises. He rises and we will have Mass again in our public churches. We will rejoice with great gratitude because this is a gift never to be taken for granted.”
All church events such as retreats, festivals, and religious education classes are also suspended until further notice.
Flores said priests will continue to celebrate Sunday and daily Masses only without the attendance of parishioners. Flores encourages Catholics to unite themselves at home to the “great mystery of the Lord among us. He is near to us even though we cannot draw near to him in our churches.”
The diocesan website will include updated links to Masses live-streamed on the Internet, along with other resources for prayers at home.
Flores said funerals, weddings, confession, anointing of the sick and other sacramental celebrations will be celebrated “only under severely limited circumstances and conditions.”
Flores said closing the churches will have a great impact on them since most depend on donations from their parishioners but hopes the public will not forget to support their local churches.
“On a lot of our churches it is going to have a severe affect immediately. I will tell you that is a concern of mine…I trust that people are generous,” and will make donations to their churches.
The bishop added the diocese will continue to follow the advice and directives of state and local health officials.