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California Catholics Join Fight Against COVID Restrictions of Worship

Anne Stych

Hundreds of San Francisco Catholics took to the streets Sept. 20 to participate in a “Free the Mass” march protesting the city’s restrictions on religious services, which currently ban indoor worship even as malls, salons and gyms have been allowed to reopen with limited capacity. 

Marchers carrying banners that read “We Are Essential: Free the Mass!” began at three separate parishes and converged at San Francisco City Hall where they were met by Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone, who celebrated Mass outdoors for the estimated 1,500 worshipers at the nearby Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption.

“For months I have pleaded with the city on your behalf, advocating for your need of the consolation of the Mass, and the consolation you derive from the practice of your faith and connection with your faith community. City hall ignored us,” Cordileone said in his homily, Catholic News Agency (CAN) reported.

“It has become clear to me that they just don’t care about you…We have been patiently putting up with unjust treatment long enough, and now it is time to come together to witness to our faith and to the primacy of God, and tell City Hall: No More!”

The San Francisco government’s guidance on reopening has as its goal allowing places of worship to reopen at 25% capacity up to a limit of 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors by Oct. 1. Currently, indoor worship services are banned, and just one person at a time can be allowed inside a church for prayer, individual counseling or to pick up or drop off items.

In a September 13 memo that encouraged worshipers to join the protest, Cordileone called the numbers “totally arbitrary.” Twenty-five people is just 1% of the Cathedral’s capacity and it could “easily” fit 1,000 people either indoors or outdoors with proper social distancing, he said. 

“One person at a time in this great cathedral to pray? What an insult. This is a mockery. They are mocking you, and even worse, they are mocking God,” Cordileone said at the outdoor service.

Cordileone said city officials had not yet responded to a “safe reopening” plan the archdiocese submitted in May, according to the CNA.

In a message on the diocesan website, Cordileone encouraged Catholics to pray and fast and to “redouble our efforts on the spiritual level” in light of all that is going on in our society at this time.”  

“Let us storm heaven with prayer and fasting for a restoration of public worship unhindered, for a swift end to this pandemic, for health care workers and researchers, and for government officials who must make very complicated decisions for the overall well-being of our communities,” he said. 

Cordileone also urged parishioners to visit FreeTheMass.com and sign a petition calling for San Francisco Mayor London Breed to lift the restrictions. 

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Anne Stych
Anne Stych

Freelance writer, copy editor, proofreader and content manager. Science, technology, retail, etc. writer, ACBJ BizWomen.

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