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‘Seeking Solace’: Largest Catholic Church In North America Sees Increase In Attendance During Coronavirus Panic

Mary Margaret Olohan on March 12, 2020

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will remain open “as long as we are permitted by government authorities,” the rector announced Thursday.

The Washington, D.C., shrine, which is the largest Catholic church in North America, will remain open to the public until otherwise instructed by the government, according to a Thursday statement from Monsignor Walter Rossi, Rector of the Basilica, provided to the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“We are taking reasonable precautions to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19),” the rector said in the statement. Precautions include removing holy water from fonts, omitting the “Exchange of Peace,” suspending “public distribution of the Precious Blood during Holy Communion” and increasing cleansing of public areas.

Rossi noted that the basilica has seen “increased attendance at our daily Masses” — attendance that indicates there are “many who are seeking the solace that can only be found in the celebration of the Holy Mass.”

“In these challenging times, we must balance our responsibility to care for the faithful with the need to provide a place of prayer and pilgrimage for those who seek it,” Rossi said. “We will take prudent and rational steps to protect ourselves and our visitors, while also seeking God’s guidance and protection through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

He added: “We are committed to keeping the doors of America’s Catholic Church open. However, should circumstances change and government authorities require us to close to the public, we intend to continue with the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

The basilica will make Sunday noon mass accessible via livestream at www.nationalshrine.org beginning March 15.

The shrine is located on the campus of the Catholic University of America in Brookland, D.C.  President of the university John Garvey announced March 11 that the university will move all classes online until “at least Monday, March 30.”

“This will require some adjustment for all involved, but I am confident in the dedication of our faculty, our technical capacity, and our students’ flexibility and desire to learn,” Garvey noted. “Our campus will remain open and operational during this time. Because news about the virus changes rapidly, we will reassess our status no later than March 25 and confirm or adjust the date on which we plan to resume classes on campus.”

The basilica’s decision to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic came as Episcopalian bishops suspended worship services throughout the DMV area. Services at the Washington National Cathedral, the second largest cathedral in the United States, will also be suspended.  Chief Communications Officer Kevin Eckstrom told the DCNF that one “virtual” worship service will be held on Sunday at 11:15, and people can tune in via cathedral.org.

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