My Dearest Ones in Christ,
I have feared that the day would come when I would have to write this message to you, and yet, it is out of my profoundest love and care for each of you that I send it out today.
In two separate emails to all pastors from our Bishop, we have been asked to look at the seriousness of the present surge in COVID-19 infections in Arizona. As of yesterday, the day-to-day infection rate has climbed from .27% 90 days ago to 1.65%. As of yesterday, Arizona is the #1 state in the nation for the key measure of sharing the virus, that is, the average number of people who become infected by an infectious person. Less that 10% of ICU beds in the State of Arizona are available, which is approximately 170 beds. There are no available ICU beds in Pima County hospitals, and the sick around the state are now mostly being transferred to the few remaining available ICU beds in Phoenix. We have contracted 6,000 new cases per day for the last 7 days. Yuma and Cochise Counties are facing the greatest increase and have now met or exceeded the positivity rates of the Navajo Nation.
Facing the seriousness of the present situation compels me to make the very serious and difficult decision to close St. Frances Cabrini Parish to all liturgical celebrations starting immediately. This means that as of this weekend, December 12-13, there will be no in-person celebrations of the Mass in our parish until further notice. I will, however, continue to make the Eucharist available to the community each Saturday at 5:00 p.m. in our continuing drive-through reception of Holy Communion.
Saddest of all is the reality that this closure impacts our celebration of Christmas. My heart breaks that we cannot celebrate these Holy Days in the immediate presence of our brothers and sisters in Christ. However, I will still be present on Christmas Eve, Thursday, December 24, for drive-through reception of Holy Communion at 5:00 p.m. I will also be present on Saturday, December 26 for our drive-through at 5:00 p.m.
This is not the first time in the Church’s history that painful and difficult decisions have had to be made to keep people safe. It means more to me than you’ll ever know that, as I communicate the Eucharist to you on Saturday afternoons, so many of you say to me, “Father, stay safe. We need you, and we are praying for you.” That goes straight to the depths of my heart every time, knowing how deeply we all care for each other. Please know that I have not made this decision lightly, but have, again, made it out of deepest concern for each of you.
I believe we will get to the other side of this pandemic. I encourage each of you, through the profound power of prayer and in solidarity with me as your pastor, to re-consecrate yourselves anew to your covenant of Love with our Heavenly Father and commit yourselves to remaining faithful to all it means to be true Roman Catholic Christians. Please know this; I do not cease to pray for you. By the power of the love that is in you, you have touched and won my heart. God forbid that, in such times as this, I would cease to hold each of you in my heart, praying constantly for your highest and best good.
Yours in the deepest bonds of Christian love,