Calling it the hardest decision he's had to make as the leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, Bishop Gregory Parkes announced Wednesday that he’s suspending all public Mass celebrations in the Tampa Bay area.
The move, which is effective immediately, is being done to help limit the spread of COVID-19. The bishop said It’s in effect until it’s determined that it’s safe to return to normal public worship schedules.
In a video released Wednesday, Parkes said, while people won't be able to receive communion, churches won't completely shut down.
"I have asked our pastors to keep our churches open for private prayer and devotion, and to make every effort to keep the faith life of our parishes alive by creative means which are adapted to the current circumstances,” said Parkes.
At some parishes, that means live-streaming Masses. Parkes also gave worshipers dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass.
The bishop asked that people limit weddings and funerals to family members, and baptisms be performed only in emergencies. Confirmations, public confession services, and other parish and social events are also being postponed.
The diocese has nearly half a million parishioners at 74 parishes in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.