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Catholics Attend Last Mass Before Coronavirus Shuts Down Churches

St. Patrick Catholic Parish in North Park is seen here, March 15, 2020.

Photo by Andrew Bowen

Above: St. Patrick Catholic Parish in North Park is seen here, March 15, 2020.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

Catholics in San Diego attended their final masses Sunday before their churches halt all services as the coronavirus starts to spread across the county.

Bishop Robert McElroy of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego ordered all masses cancelled starting Monday, instead offering video-streamed services in English, Spanish and Vietnamese every week at sdcatholic.org.

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"I have no need to tell you of the dislocations, legitimate concerns and misplaced fear that are burdening our parishioners and families in these days concerning COVID-19," McElroy said in a letter to priests Friday. "Being on the ground, you know these realities far more deeply and personally than I do."

Fe Cook, who attended her final mass before the cancellations at St. Patrick Catholic Parish in North Park on Sunday, said she was not too concerned about the disease yet.

"I need to go to church, I don't even want it suspended," Cook said. "But they will keep it open when they're supposed to have services, so maybe I can just come and visit the Holy Sacrament."

Ray Jimenez, who also attends mass at St. Patrick, said the mood among congregants was somber.

"People are really coming together in community," he said. "I see a difference. It's opening people's eyes."

Photo caption:

Photo by Andrew Bowen

A letter posted on the door of St. Patrick Catholic Parish in North Park informs parishioners that masses will be cancelled starting March 16 due to the coronavirus pandemic, March 15, 2020.

Other churches are holding services as usual, instead choosing to step up cleaning, limit attendance and encourage people to sit farther apart from each other than they otherwise would. Harold Nichols, a member of Grace Lutheran Church in University Heights, said the crowds Sunday morning were noticeably smaller — and that he understood why some people are choosing to stay home.

"Myself and the church secretary sanitized the sanctuary Friday," he said. "But we're big enough that people can spread out."

Health officials in San Diego County have banned all nonessential gatherings of 250 people or more, and are recommending everyone avoid crowds and practice "social distancing" — staying at least 6 feet away from other people when possible.

Cook said she was following the advice of washing her hands frequently, but was not practicing social distancing.

"As a matter of fact, we went to the casino the other night," she said, laughing.

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