Suburban pastors expect excitement, caution with reopenings
As Chicago-area Catholic churches move toward reopening as soon as May 23, some prominent suburban pastors expect parishioners will have different comfort levels about returning to Mass.
The Rev. Matt Foley, pastor of St. James Parish in Arlington Heights, said his church will create a comfortable place for the faithful, in part by ensuring everything is properly sanitized and visitors are following social distancing and other guidelines.
"I think people are excited," Foley said Thursday, "and people are always hopeful. That's the essence of the Gospel message."
"We're a people of the light," he added, "so we're excited about the opportunity to gather and worship and follow the guidelines, and being respectful of our sisters and brothers and mindful of everybody who has a different level of acceptance and abilities, too."
At Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness, the Rev. Terry Keehan said he senses there will be worshippers eager to return to church and others who are leery.
"I really think it will be something in between, because there's a certain group of people, they miss (church)," said Keehan, who is Holy Family's pastor. "Everybody misses coming to church. But there's a certain group that will only kind of be fed, so to speak, by coming here. I think there's going to be lots more who are cautious."
Some older suburban parishioners already are voicing concern about returning to church. Questions also remain about logistics, such as whether a priest can get close enough to pour water on an infant for a baptism.
Citing an agreement with the governor's office, Archdiocese of Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich on Wednesday announced a plan for the gradual reopening of churches that ultimately would include ticketing or reservation systems and contact tracing. Catholic officials in Chicago, Rockford and Joliet released identical summaries of the plan, which features a Phase I, Phase IA and Phase II.
Work toward reopening is to start Monday with webinar training for parish volunteers who would implement the reopening proposal. Foley doesn't expect a problem attracting volunteers to help reopen.
"And then there also is a groundswell of people wanting to return to a place of prayer and receive the sacraments," he said. "That's been consistent since Day 1. People want to have access to the sacraments, have missed the sacraments dearly."
Under Phase I, targeted to start May 23, churches would be open for limited sacramental celebrations and private prayer. It first establishes procedures parishes can use to reestablish baptisms, reconciliations, weddings and funerals attended by up to 10 people, excluding ministers and the on-site staff.
Keehan stressed that volunteers will need to pass "lots of training" and become certified by the Archdiocese of Chicago, so the idea of the Phase I reopening starting in little more than a week should be viewed with cautious optimism. He also said exact guidance for baptisms and reconciliation is needed.
"Baptisms and reconciliation, to me, presents a little unique problem because you're so close, you have to pour water over a baby and you have to be close to somebody in the sacrament of reconciliation," Keehan said. "I'm not sure how we're going to do that."
In a statement to the Daily Herald, the Chicago archdiocese said it's following "the guidance of competent civil authorities about when and how to reopen."
Under Phase II, weekday and weekend Masses for larger groups could restart, depending on state guidelines and church capacity.
However, Jean Wenzel, a parishioner at St. Colette Parish in Rolling Meadows since 1965, said she and her husband won't be rushing to Mass when it resumes.
Wenzel said her husband has health problems and they are now used to tuning in ABC 7 for Cupich's Sunday morning Mass.
"So, I think we'll just wait, let the younger people go," she said. "And we can still pray at home, you know."
The archdiocese does not have an estimated audience for the televised Sunday Mass.