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Diocese looks to reopen

Bishop Mark L. Bartchak has announced plans to reopen church buildings in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and the gradual return to sacramental life.

“The closing of churches and suspension of the public celebration of Mass and the sacraments were necessary precautions taken for the health and safety of everyone,” Bartchak said, “But the opportunity has come to begin reopening our churches and restore sacramental life in stages.”

The bishop’s plan involves four phases, beginning with parishes being permitted to reopen church buildings effective Saturday, May 16. Churches will be open only for private prayer with seating restrictions to provide safe distances. Masks must be worn in all churches and other safety precautions must be followed.

It is important to note that this first step does not include the celebration of public Masses and other sacraments, Bartchak said. Priests will continue to celebrate Mass privately.

The second, third and fourth phases, as outlined in the Bishop’s message, involve celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation, distributing Holy Communion outside of Mass and eventually resuming the celebration of public Masses.

Baptisms, weddings, and funerals may be celebrated with all social distancing and other precautions remaining in effect. Parishioners may contact pastors for specific information.

“Although much still needs to happen before truly returning to the normal life of the church, the announcement that parishes may reopen their doors and the faithful may return for private prayer is a great first step,” Bartchak said in a statement. “As we continue to move forward, we ask for everyone’s patience and understanding.”

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