SOMERTON – Catholic churches in south Yuma County are getting ready to open their doors to parishioners following weeks of closures prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, the Tucson Diocese announced that it would allow churches in the diocese to offer outdoor Holy Communion celebrations and open next weekend for Masses of limited attendance.
Father Bartolome Vazquez of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Somerton said parishioners will be able to receive communion today from 6:30 to 7 p.m. on the sidewalk in front of the main entrance to the church at 310 W. Spring St., following a 5 p.m. virtual Mass that will be transmitted on Facebook.
Vazquez said the church’s reopening is taking place in phases, with the first phase starting May 29 with parishioners being admitted for Mass on the premises.
“There has been much suffering for our parochial community and ministers being unable to celebrate Masses,” he said. “The Holy Mass is fundamental for all of us, and although we have had virtual Masses, it’s not the same, so there is a great urgency to go back to having the Masses in the temple.”
After this evening’s communion ceremony, he said, parishioners on Sunday will be invited to commune on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., following virtual Masses on Facebook scheduled for 9 a.m. and noon. They will be asked to wear masks and use hand sanitizer and practice social distancing.
In a news release announcing the partial reopening of the churches, Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger stressed the importance of taking precautions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“It is fundamental that all Catholics be reminded that an inherent risk exists for any person who goes to any public place, including a church. The decision to return to the public celebrations of our faith during this time of pandemic should not be taken lightly or in a casual way by anyone,” he said.
The diocese is urging people 65 and older who suffer chronic illnesses and those having other health conditions to refrain from going to churches for Masses, instead attending them by internet.
Vazquez asked all planning to attend the outdoor communion to observe social distancing measures. He added that once the church opens for Masses, attendance will be limited to 80 people per Mass, equaling 25% of capacity.
In San Luis, St. Jude Thaddeus Church hopes to open for Masses of limited attendance on May 30, said Fabiola Zamora, a member of the church staff.
“If the Diocese approves it, we will return to celebrating Masses beginning that day, but attendance will be limited to 90 people per Mass,” Zamora said.
The church will follow all sanitary guidelines established by public health officials and the Tucson Diocese for preventing the spread of the coronavirus, Zamora added.
In its news release, the diocese instructed its parishes to resume Masses, communions and other activities Fridays through Mondays, with Tuesdays through Thursdays reserved for disinfecting the churches and other facilities.
“We have been hopeful of renewing activities, but the ways we are going to do them is going to change,” Vazquez said. “I think this has provided us a great lesson about what perhaps we had lost sight of – protecting ourselves and caring for one another.”
For information about Masses and other events at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, people can visit its Facebook page or call 928-627-2918.
For St. Jude Thaddeus Church, visit the Facebook page or call 928-627-8011.