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Archdiocese gives its blessing for dozens of Chicago-area churches to resume mass on Sunday, but urges ‘they start slow’

In addition to social distancing, face covering and sanitation guidelines, parishes will keep attendance records for contact tracing, and there won’t be any seat-changing, basket-passing or touching allowed.  

Parishioners attend a service at Transfiguration Catholic Church in Oakdale, Minn., on Wednesday, May 27, 2020.
Parishioners attend a service at Transfiguration Catholic Church in Oakdale, Minn., on Wednesday, May 27, 2020.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP

As houses of worship across the country grapple with how to welcome back believers following the coronavirus shutdown, the Chicago-area faithful could be returning for mass at dozens of Catholic churches this Sunday.

About 80 parishes have been cleared by Chicago’s local arm of the Catholic Church to enter its next reopening phase, which allows for regular masses “for larger groups,” according to the Archdiocese of Chicago.

That’s almost a quarter of its 316 parishes, but just because churches have been certified doesn’t mean they’ll resume mass right away, according to archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Thomas.

“It’s encouraged that they start slow,” she said.

When the pandemic hit three months ago, services were limited to 10-person weddings, funerals, reconciliations and baptisms. That was extended to “private prayer and adoration” sessions last week — still capped at 10 people — as Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a set of relaxed recommendations for houses of worship to reopen.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich speaks at Holy Name Cathedral for a special mass in 2018.
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich speaks at Holy Name Cathedral for a special mass in 2018.
Chicago. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Now, churches certified for Phase II of Cardinal Blase Cupich’s reopening plan — not to be confused with Phase 3 of Pritzker’s statewide reopening plan, which last week allowed thousands of restaurants and businesses to resume limited operations — will be limited the first week to 15% capacity or 50 people maximum, easing up to 20% if all goes well.

That falls within city-specific guidelines that Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she plans to follow.

“I know people miss church. I understand that. I was brought up in the church,” Lightfoot said at a news conference Friday evening. “But we need to make sure we are doing everything we can safely and carefully.”

In addition to social distancing, face covering and sanitation guidelines, parishes will keep attendance records for contact tracing, and there won’t be any seat-changing, basket-passing or touching allowed.

The archdiocese wouldn’t provide a list of the Phase II-certified churches.

Meanwhile, about a dozen mosques in the area have slowly begun welcoming back Muslims, while some are sticking to e-services for now, according to Abdullah Mitchell, executive director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

Muslim women pray at the Council of Islamic Organizations headquarters in 2017.
Muslim women pray at the Council of Islamic Organizations headquarters in 2017.
Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times file

“Figuring out the safest way to do things — that’s dominating everyone’s time,” Mitchell said, adding that the organizations are marking social distancing points in prayer areas.

Similar precautions are still being worked out at Chicago synagogues, a handful of which have “reopened with careful adherence to relevant guidelines, said Rabbi Yona Reiss of the Chicago Rabbinical Council.

“Others hoping to reopen shortly. Everyone has the same interest in mind: to ensure the health and safety of participants,” Reiss said.

Chicago Loop Synagogue president Lee Zoldan said she doesn’t expect that to happen at her sanctuary until July at the earliest, as many of her fellow congregants feel “very guarded” about returning.

“I don’t think they want to come,” she said. “There’s no point in opening the synagogue if no one is there.”

Contributing: Manny Ramos, a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.