How some churches are dealing with surging COVID while celebrating Christmas

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Thursday, December 23, 2021
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Christmas Eve is a day away but the omicron surge has forced some local churches to make changes. Darla Miles reports with the latest.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Christmas Eve is a day away but the omicron surge has forced some local churches to make changes.

Some are adjusting services or moving them online to keep worshipers safe.

"Christmas mass is something that's very important to us as Catholics, it's part of who we are, it really is the main celebration of what Christmas is all about," said Bishop Robert J. Brennan with the Diocese of Brooklyn.

The cornerstone of the Catholic faith, on pause since before the pandemic, will not be on hold this Christmas - COVID or not.

"My main message about COVID safety is that I thank people for their sacrifices and their willingness to be flexible," Brennan said.

With scaled back communion and not physically exchanging the sign of peace, Catholic parishioners have been flexible when it comes to COVID safety.

The archdiocese in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Newark and Rockville Center have announced that Christmas mass will be held virtually and in-person as originally planned, before the omicron surge.

In talking to their various spokespeople this week, they believe their churches are the safest places in their communities and their schools remained open longer than most public schools due to their health and safety precautions.

"The main thing that's new with Omicron is that...we've been able to say that those who were vaccinated need not wear a mask," Brenna said. "Now we're asking everyone to wear a mask as a safety precaution."

However, in Newark, masks are optional.

"As we prepare for Christmas, we anticipate many people and families celebrating at our parishes," the Archdiocese of Newark said in a statement. "Currently, masking is optional, but strongly recommended for those who are not vaccinated and for those who are at high risk. The Archdiocese of Newark will continue to monitor evolving CDC guidance as well as state mandates, which are subject to revision. Any policy changes will be communicated promptly. Our goal is to keep families, clergy and staff safe while remaining compliant with applicable laws.

The in-person services are in contrast to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights which has canceled all in-person Christmas masses. It is virtual only.

"Throughout the pandemic we have tended to be rather cautious," said Father Patrick Malloy.

"One of the things here about Brooklyn and Queens, this is one of the communities that suffered a lot during the early days of the pandemic," Brennan said. "People take it very, very seriously around here."

Communities that overcame being the epicenter have survived by leaning on faith.

"One of the messages of Christmas is the message of hope," Brennan said. "We need that message of Christmas now more than ever."

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