In addition to the precautionary measures already in effect throughout the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Bishop Mark L. Bartchak has announced new directives in response to the concerns over the coronavirus.
Effective immediately, the Bishop has directed the following:
· In union with all bishops of Pennsylvania, Bishop Bartchak has dispensed all Catholics in the diocese from the obligation of participating at Sunday or Holy Day Masses. Those who do not attend Mass are strongly encouraged to pray with the Church by watching the televised Mass from Saint John Gualbert Cathedral in Johnstown every Sunday live at 11:00 a.m. on WATM ABC 23 or the rebroadcast every Sunday at 9:00 p.m. on Atlantic Broadband channel 9. The Sunday Liturgy will also be posted on the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown Facebook page.
· Until further notice, reception of Holy Communion on the tongue is strongly discouraged, keeping in mind the health and safety of all who participate in the liturgy.
· All clergy and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion must cleanse their hands before and after the distribution of Holy Communion with hot water and soap, hand sanitizer, and disposable paper towels.
· Holy Water fonts in churches will be emptied immediately and will not be refilled until further notice.
The above directives are in addition to the flu season directives that have been in place in the diocese for the past several weeks, which include not offering the Precious Blood and not shaking hands during the Sign of Peace.
At this time, all parish Mass schedules will continue as usual. Other non-essential liturgical and social activities should be cancelled until further notice.
Out of an abundance of caution, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown is cancelling the annual Junior High Youth Day, which was scheduled for March 15. The event would have included about 250 junior high students from around the diocese.
Catholic schools in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown will follow the directives of their local school district. Following the lead of the State College Area School District, Our Lady of Victory Catholic School in State College and Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Boalsburg will be closed next week. Both schools are on Spring Break this week. At all Catholic schools in Altoona-Johnstown, the diocesan Education Office is mandating a 14 day quarantine for any student, educator, or staff member that has just flown or may pose a health risk.
If any other circumstances arise within Catholic schools, (e.g. early dismissal or closing) the appropriate action will be taken immediately, including notification to parents/guardians.
Religious Education classes at parishes throughout the diocese will also follow the directives of their local school district.
During this time, Bishop Bartchak is also directing all parishes and schools to increase their efforts to clean and sanitize restrooms, classrooms, social halls, worship spaces, and any other common areas.
The diocese will communicate specific instructions to pastors and parishes with regard to carrying out the above directives. We are encouraging all parishes to communicate the changes with their faithful at Masses this weekend.
The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown continues to be in contact with public health officials, and will announce any further directives as developments warrant. We urge parishes, clergy, educators, and the faithful to exercise precaution and common sense during this time.