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As Holy Week Begins, Churches Try To Reach Parishioners In New Ways

SYRACUSE, NY (WRVO) - Churches, mosques, temples and all places of worship have been mostly closed as part of social distancing protocol in the fight against the coronavirus. But as the holiest week of the liturgical year begins, the Syracuse Catholic Diocese wants to be there for Catholics on the sidelines.

Palm Sunday starts Holy Week for Christians and Catholics. Palms are blessed and distributed to parishioners to reflect the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. That didn’t happen in the Syracuse Diocese Sunday. Instead, palms were blessed at parishes across central New York in masses that were live streamed, including from Syracuse’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, presided over by Syracuse Bishop Douglas Lucia.

"Sanctify these branches with your blessing, that we who follow Christ the King in exultation may reach the eternal Jerusalem through him, for ever and ever," Lucia said during the Mass.

Lucia leads more than a quarter of a million parishioners in seven counties. He said the 128 parishes are turning to what works for them during a Holy Week with empty pews.

"Pastors are trying to stay connected with their flocks, and some are doing it through mailings and through the internet, but a lot of parishes will try to live stream at least Easter Mass if not other Holy Week services," said Lucia.

Father John Kurgan, pastor of Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, is encouraging parishioners to not only watch Holy Cross live-streamed services, but others.

"We’re asking people to tune in to Bishop Lucia’s Holy Saturday night mass so we can remember that we’re not just Holy Cross parishioners but members of a bigger, wider, community."

It’s not all high tech. Kurgan said beyond social media and live streaming, volunteers are telephoning parishioners who live alone or may not be so technically savvy to make sure they’re okay. And priests are connecting as well. Lucia is holding an online meeting for all priests in the diocese Tuesday on a day that would have been the yearly Chrism Mass.

Kurgan admitted that preaching to empty pews can be a challenge.

"Like anything you get used to it. But, I’ll be happy to have parishioners back. Nothing will replace the people."

Lucia said in some ways social distancing offers more time for Catholics to look behind what Holy Week is all about.

"With this simplifying everything because of not having a congregation, it allows us to really take a look at what is behind all that we're celebrating," he said.