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BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) -- The Diocese of Brooklyn announced March 19 that it has learned of at least 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, within several of its parish communities.
A day later, the diocese announced two priests had tested positive for COVID-19. At noon March 20, the diocese also closed all churches in the New York boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, the territory covered by the diocese. All rectories also were closed for business at noon, and parish office business will continue by telephone only.
"As a result of the closures, funerals, weddings and baptisms will not be permitted in church," the diocese said. "This is because limiting them to 10 people is proving not to be feasible." The sacrament of reconciliation will be limited to emergencies only, and spiritual counseling will be provided over the phone.
The Brooklyn Diocese had canceled all public Masses as of March 16 until further notice.
One of the priests with the confirmed case is from Sacred Heart of Jesus in Glendale in Queens. He last celebrated Mass March 15 at 8 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. He also was at the soup supper March 14 in the church basement. The other priest celebrated Mass at St. Matthew's Church in Crown Heights in Brooklyn March 15, at 11:30 am.
"Both churches and rectories now will undergo a deep cleaning and sanitization, with approved disinfectants, following guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
With regard to the earlier confirmed cases, all of the churches in these parishes involved "have undergone or are undergoing a deep cleaning and sanitization, with approved disinfectants" following CDC guidelines, the diocese said in a statement.
The parishes with the 10 confirmed cases announce earlier are:
-- Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Queens Village in the New York borough of Queens, four confirmed cases. One individual last attended Mass March 1. The other three individuals are from the same family. They last attended Mass Feb. 23. One o them also attended a Bible study group Feb. 24 in the Bethsaida Spirituality Center.
-- Holy Family Church in Fresh Meadows in Queens, one confirmed case. The individual was last at the parish March 4 at a soup supper in the Holy Family Catholic Academy school hall.
-- Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Jamaica in Queens, two confirmed cases. One individual was last at the 11 a.m. Mass March. The other individual has not been at the church for the last few weeks.
-- St. Joan of Arc Church in Jackson Heights in Queens, one confirmed case. The individual was last at the church March 5 for a funeral.
-- St. Rose of Lima Catholic Academy in Rockaway Beach in Queens, one reported case of a parent who visited the school for a short time to speak to the principal March 11, "but there was very limited exposure to the rest of the academy."
-- Our Lady of Peace Church in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, one case. The individual came from another parish to a meeting of a faith-based group held in the convent hall March 10.
The diocese urged anyone who was at these locations during the noted dates and/or times and is concerned about exposure to "contact your doctor." "If you experience symptoms like fever, cough, or shortness of breath, contact your doctor immediately."
"At all times, but especially now, the safety and well-being of our faith community is our primary concern. The Diocese of Brooklyn will continue to deliver important information in a timely manner," the statement said.
In a video message taped in the chapel in his residence, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn urged the faithful in the diocese to seriously heed the advice of government officials and health professionals are giving about how to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
As these officials advise, he said, "we really do need to stay at home so that we can curtail the spread of the virus, we really do. It has been a difficult time for most of us, especially since we've had to cancel all public Masses in an effort to curtail this virus."
"We all must understand that this is a critical time in the history of our country and in the world. This pandemic can cause many, many deaths and certainly many people have been sick," Bishop DiMarzio said March 19. "We will be keeping in touch with you on Facebook and on Twitter. We can't be far from God's word and God's company even though we might not have the sacramental life that we would like."
Speaking on the feast of St. Joseph, patron of the universal church and the protector of Jesus and Mary, the bishop said: "We ask him to be our protector, to protect us from this virus, protect us (while) being confined at home. Let us ask his intercession. We go to Joseph, the powerful saint, with great confidence, asking him" to intercede for us.
Bishop DiMarzio, whose message was broadcast on vimeo.com in English, Spanish and Italian, reiterated that "we must take all the precautions necessary, (do) all the things we that we're told to do. Please stay at home especially if you have underlying conditions, please make sure that you are following all the instructions."
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Editor's Note: The Tablet, newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn is posting updates regarding coronavirus concerns at https://thetablet.org/coronavirus.