EL CENTRO — Early into Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. mass vigil at St. Mary, Father Mark Edney read a letter from the Bishop of San Diego that addressed the coronavirus at local parish churches. 

Attached with the bishop’s letter was a note from Father Mark. Both letters were included as inserts in the churches’ newsletter. It read, “Out of precaution for the risk of the coronavirus, the Bishop of San Diego (R.T. Rev. Robert McElroy) has requested the cancellation of Reconciliation Services and regular confession hours. Individual confession may be made by appointment through the parish office.” 

The letter, also available in Spanish, was addressed to Father Mark, who had jurisdiction over St. Mary Parish, St. Mary’s School, and Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. 

“This is the last mass,” said Father Mark. The Bishop of San Diego suspended, as of Monday on forward, any gatherings to take place at local parish churches.

“We asked individuals to practice social distancing,” said Father Mark. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, www.cdc.gov, defined the term: “Social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately six feet or two meters) from others when possible.” 

Minutes prior to the start of Saturday’s mass, Father Mark stood near the entrance of the church building to greet parishioners as they arrived. Some parishioners were hesitant to shake hands or embrace with friends. Other substitute greeting touches such as elbow-to-elbow or knuckle-to-knuckle were observed. Others preferred to stand; each greeting one another with a smile. 

The Catholic faith, as with other religious groups that meet regularly on weekends and certain days of the week, will be unable to gather in churches and in schools due to an executive order from the governor of California — which mandated the cancellation of any gatherings of more than 250 individuals. According to Father Mark, “We have 600 individuals in Catechism classes and 200 in confirmation classes.” These classes were suspended until further notice. 

However, there were plans to conduct these classes online. “Our congregation is resilient and has a strong faith. This is good for our people because we are concerned for their health and our wider community in Imperial Valley,” said Father Mark. 

As the mass neared its conclusion, Father Mark encouraged the congregation to pray for individuals and departed souls. The mass ended at 6:15 p.m. and greeters distributed newsletters to individuals as they exited the sanctuary. 

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