By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
In a message issued in conjunction with updated COVID-19 directives for worship released April 14, Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon calls on those concerned about current restrictions to contact government representatives.
Acknowledging the frustration and even anger prompted by a return to the 30-person limit on worship services announced by the Saskatchewan Premier and Chief Medical Officer April 13, Bishop Hagemoen affirms that the diocese will continue to abide by government regulations.
However, he also encourages people to express their concerns about restrictions on worship to their MLA, to the Premier and to the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
“After a brief respite permitting gatherings of 30 per cent of a building’s capacity up to 150, we are again restricted to 30 persons being allowed in the building for worship services, without regard for the size of the building,” the bishop reports in his letter to the faithful.
“While we understand the need to address rising numbers in COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan, and in particular, the increase in the more-dangerous variants of the virus, we are once again frustrated that churches have been singled out for greater restrictions, while other service agencies, businesses, restaurants, bars, and retail outlets, etc. are exempt from any additional restrictions,” says Hagemoen.
“It does feel as if faith communities are being unfairly singled out,” he says, adding: “For some among us, the disappointment and frustration of this is also a source of anger and even resistance.”
The diocese will continue to abide by government regulations aimed at reducing the transmission of the coronavirus, stresses Bishop Hagemoen.
“While I understand and deeply share the concerns being expressed, I wish to strongly affirm that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon will continue to cooperate with government efforts to combat the transmission of COVID-19, which remains a real and serious threat,” he says.
“This is a step we take in solidarity with all who are suffering, with those who are most vulnerable among us, in actions that are always consistent with the gospel call to guard every human life.”
In his letter, the bishop of Saskatoon invites those with concerns about government COVID-19 response and guidelines to contact elected officials, including their MLA, the Premier, and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health.
“At the same time, I continue to join other faith leaders in our province in strongly advocating for fair treatment for faith communities when it comes to numbers permitted to gather for worship, on par with restrictions placed on other sectors of our society.”
The bishop concludes with words of thanksgiving for all that parishes are doing as the global pandemic enters its second year.
“Once again, I express my profound gratitude to all who persevere in faith and charity during these times of challenge, including our pastors, who have offered the Sacraments, ministry and support throughout this pandemic,” says the bishop, adding that he is “grateful for the many creative ways you have reached out and continued to Proclaim Christ in every circumstance.”
Updated directives for worship
In the introduction to the compiled directives updated on April 14, Bishop Hagemoen again begins by referring pastors, parish leaders and the faithful of the diocese to both the Government of Saskatchewan Public Health Orders and the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan for information. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the diocese and its parishes have cooperated with public health orders, under the bishop’s ongoing directives.
The directives from the bishop include the fact that the faithful continue to be dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays. “Those who are at risk because of an underlying health issue or who are 65 or older are strongly encouraged, for their own health, to avoid the risk of attending public celebrations of the Mass,” state the directives.
“We encourage parishes to continue to live-stream Mass as they have been doing so those unable to attend in person can maintain a spiritual connection with their local parish.” Live-stream celebrations of Mass by a number of priests in the diocese can be found at saskatoonmass.com
The diocesan directives set out how liturgy is to be celebrated under the government guidelines, including the numbers permitted to gather: “Effective April 16, 2021, the total number of people attending the place of worship cannot exceed 30 individuals…. While concurrent services are permitted in other rooms in the facility, the combined capacity within the facility may not exceed 30 persons.”
The directives encourage parishes to establish a system of registration for gatherings, mandating that parishes keep a list of those in attendance at any gathering to permit “contact tracing” if that becomes necessarily.
A range of other issues, including churches being open for prayer, celebration of initiation sacraments, physical distancing, cleaning, and a range of procedures before, during and after Mass are also part of the compiled directives.
Who to contact with concerns
- MLA names and addresses can be found at – https://www.legassembly.sk.ca/mlas/
- Scott Moe, Premier of Saskatchewan – E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org / Phone:306-787-9433
- The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health – E-mail: email@example.com / Phone 306-787-7345
- Faith Leaders Liaison Group to the Government of Saskatchewan – Email NJesson@archregina.sk.ca to have the group pass feedback on to government.