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Catholic Masses Cancelled In Central New York; Churches Open For Private Prayer

After suspending the obligation for Catholics to attend Sunday church, the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse felt compelled to go one step further according to its Director of Communications Danielle Cummings.

"We have such wonderful, faithful people who during this season of Lent particularly want to be in the presence of the Eucharist and be in the community of mass, so even with the lifting of the obligation to attend Sunday mass, many people still felt obligated because mass was taking place and really we are at a point where we have to ask people to not participate in these public masses," Cummings said.

The Diocese plans to keep its churches open but to stream the masses online for the time being.

"The bishop recognizes how very hard this is for people and people will be very upset who really turn to mass for their peace, their solace, and being fulfilled spiritually," Cummings said. "What we will do is walk with them, just in different measures."

The Vineyard Church, a multi-site church with five locations in central New York, is also streaming its services. But the challenge for these and other churches is what do about the other services they offer, like caring for their fellow parishioners and keeping their food pantries open.

"We're going to try to give people comfort virtually, we'll do it on the phone, for people who are sick we'll make sure our prayer teams are there praying for people," said John Elmer, the lead pastor at Vineyard. "It’s a whole new landscape right now and we’re trying to figure out what it means to be a church in the midst of the regulations that are being laid down at this point."

Elmer says the Vineyard's food pantry remains open, but they are filtering families in one at a time to avoid community exposure.

"We're trying to figure out how can we care for our community at large and how can we care for the people in our church as well," Elmer said.