CAPITAL REGION -- Albany's Roman Catholic Diocese, for the second time this month, has issued safety precautions to combat the spread of coronavirus.
New, diocesan-wide guidelines announced Tuesday include:
* Suspension, until further notice, of distribution of consecrated wine from the chalice or cup. Holy Communion will still be distributed, although Catholics have been advised to receive Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue.
* Suspension, until further notice, of the physical sign of peace. People may still, for example, turn to each other and say, “Peace be with you.”
* Until further notice, holy water fonts are to be emptied and changed regularly. As a further precaution, they may be emptied or removed, if this is judged to be prudent and necessary.
Last Wednesday, the diocese issued "Stage 1" of its precautions. Recommendations to parishes included assurance to church members that if they were sick and or experiencing symptoms of serious illness, they would not be obliged to attend Sunday Mass.
The diocese also asked anyone with cold or flu symptoms to refrain from the physical sign of peace, refrain from taking Communion from the chalice and receive the host in the hand only.
Parishioners also were asked to sanitize their hands as they entered church.
The precautions come during Lent, a busy and solemn time for Christians as they prepare for Easter.
Rev. Richard Carlino, pastor at both St. Anthony's Church and St. John the Evangelist Church in Schenectady, understands the new rules.
"I eliminated the 'kiss of peace' last weekend; this is phase two now," he said."
"I think it's very good and very proactive on the part of the church to do this," Carlino added. "They're doing the right thing to try to keep us as safe as we possibly can."
Rev. Dominic Isopo, pastor of St. Luke's Church, believes the diocese guidelines represent a wise move.
"Whether the virus is transmitted in these ways or not I don't know," he said. "But I do know in terms of perception, I think it's important for the people to know the church is mindful of what's going on. Hopefully, they'll interpret this as a way of sort of caring for them and trying to do the best in spite of the immediate attention on the virus."
Isopo said he noticed that parishioners at St. Luke's have been more cautious during the exchange of peace during recent services.
"People were not extending, and especially here at St. Luke's, it's a very friendly kind of place," he said. "But I think better to suspend those kinds of things. Although they are an important part of our liturgy and our worship, I think we have to be more prudent about it and for the time being just maybe step back from that."
Rev. Robert Longobucco, pastor of the Catholic Community of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Parish, also understands the reasons behind the precautions.
"We want church to be a place of peace and security, that's why we go," Longobucco said. "I hope these measures really bring that security and peace to everybody who comes there. We need to protect ourselves and we need to protect our neighbor while still celebrating what we value the most."
Longobucco believes there is anxiety over the virus.
"And I think that's understandable," he said. "I think that's part of what we deal with. But I think when you're anxious, we're a good place to be."
Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]