“I wanted to be closer to the priests and the people, that is where a bishop belongs. I want us all to be ever closer.”
Baldacchino ordered the construction of a stage outside his Cathedral of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and used it to celebrate the liturgies of the Easter Triduum. The congregation remained in their cars, with empty parking spaces between each vehicle, and the bishop distributed Communion to each car, wearing a face mask and gloves.
“Someone reported us to the state police,” he told CNA. “I was amazed. We did this in the open, for Easter, and someone calls the police: the fear people are living in right now.”
The bishop told CNA that when the state police came to see him about the Easter celebrations they were “apologetic.”
“They came, they said they were very sorry to ask but they needed to know what had happened. We explained everything and they said ‘Father, this is all fine, we cannot see any problems.’”
His letter to priests on Tuesday set clear guidelines for pastors to say Mass in similar ways, explaining that where parking lot Masses are not feasible, priests are permitted to offer Mass outside, elsewhere on church property, with congregations of any size observing social distancing rules.
“We have to be creative, we have to respond to the times and the needs of the people,” he said.
Baldacchino also rejected the idea that resuming Masses within the limits of the public health order is elitist or exclusive.
“Right now I have the option for zero people or five. Let’s do what we can indoors. The point is not to exclude anyone, but to welcome as many as we can.”
“The pastors know very well how to proceed with prudence – to take registrations online when there are only limited spaces, to ensure there is a rotation, to start with the peripheries, to come to everyone in time. But again, the point of this really is to go out, that would be my preference.”
“The important thing is to be with the people; we cannot say ‘everyone or no one’. Where there are only a few hospital beds or ventilators and many sick people, do we say ‘we must be fair, so no one gets treated’? Of course not. Like the loaves and the fishes, we share what little we have and trust the Lord to multiply it with His grace.”
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Baldacchino also reiterated his opposition to the New Mexico governor’s decision to designate churches as “non-essential.”
“People are living in fear of death, of unemployment. They are sinking into despair. How much more essential could it be that we are with them, that we can feed the soul right now?” he asked.
“I was very inspired by our Holy Father, Pope Francis. He spoke about how drastic measures are not always good. He opened the churches of Rome – in a safe way, of course – and warned us that we must remain very close to the Lord’s flock at this time. We cannot wall ourselves off.”
CNA asked Baldacchino about the risks inherent in opening the churches, even to limited numbers, and to authorizing outdoor gatherings, even with social distancing guidelines in place.
“There is always a risk,” he said, “and we must do everything we can to guard against it. But this question of risk is always aimed at the Church. We do not ask it of other places,” he said.
“On Monday I went to the McDonalds drive through - a bit of a confession here. A very nice person took my credit card at one window, and a different person gave me my food at another – no masks, no gloves. Does anyone say we must close McDonalds because there is a risk? Or Walmart, or the gas station? Of course not. We accept there are certain essential things needed to live physically. So the risk of those places is never questioned, but more than five people in a church is a crime, too risky. Isn’t the soul the most important? We’ve gone a bit insane.”