COVID-19 (Coronavirus): Information for Parishes and Parishioners

Please note: We will be posting updates as the national and statewide situations surrounding the virus continue to evolve.

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April 1, 2021 Holy Thursday 

Dear Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese of Gallup, 


Blessings and God’s peace on this Holy Thursday, the beginning of the celebration of the Triduum. Each year we look forward to celebrating these most sacred days, but most especially this year, as unlike last year, the faithful will be able to gather for liturgical celebrations. As disciples of Christ, we take up our crosses and follow after Our Lord, trusting that He leads us to eternal life. We recall Saint Faustina’s words “In difficult moments, I will fix my gaze upon the silent Heart of Jesus stretched on the Cross, and from the exploding flames of His merciful Heart, will flow down upon me power and strength to keep fighting.” May we never grow tired of standing the shadows of Our Lord’s cross. 

This message responds to several recent announcements of relaxed restrictions by civil authorities. These would include a new executive order from the Governor of Arizona and improved ratings for several counties in New Mexico with associated automatic changes in directives. We also rejoice with the Navajo faithful who recently were permitted to assemble at Mass for the first time since a year ago. This has prompted some change in guidance for the churches of the Diocese of Gallup. 

At first glance the Arizona Executive Order 2021-06, released on March 25, 2021 appears to remove all restrictions previously in place. However, that is not the whole story. The order may have removed “mandatory” statewide and community restrictions, but it puts the responsibility back on the individual businesses and non-profit entities, churches, etc. They are advised to assess their situation and make prudent decisions tailored for their circumstances. This should be interpreted more as an action of subsidiarity rather than rescinding all rational precautions. It encourages cautious behavior to include physical safe distancing, the use of masks and avoidance of crowds. It advises businesses and other entities to follow the recommended practices published by such resources as the CDC, OSHA, U.S. Department of Labor, and Arizona Department of Health Services. The order also authorizes Arizona businesses to enforce the internal policies they determine are best for their entity to include the wearing of masks, safe distancing, and other mitigating practices. They may legally exclude persons who refuse to comply. 

A quick review of other parts of the Diocese of Gallup reveals the Navajo Nation now allows assemblies in church at 25 % of capacity with mask wear required and other precautions to diminish the opportunity for disease spread in public. The Zuni Pueblo has reopened allowing members-only to assembly in churches up to 50% of capacity (masks and 6-feet safe distancing are required). The pueblos of Laguna and Acoma remain closed to assemblies according to most recent media postings. The New Mexico counties of Catron, San Juan and McKinley were all declared in Turquois Category in the Red to Green Framework reopening policy. Sandoval and Cibola counties were Yellow Category. 

It is difficult to interpret some of the directives of the health officials since they seem to propose some contradictions. The following directives are issued for the entities of the Diocese of Gallup to guide the reduction of some restrictions and still exercise caution. The threat of the coronavirus is diminished but not extinguished. The prior directives from the Office of the Bishop remain in effect until further instructions are given, but the following adjustments should be implemented: 

    • To the extent possible, physical safe distancing should be maintained within our church facilities which is currently defined as 6 feet between family groups, and adult individuals. Three (3) feet is advised between individual children (school age K-12). Revised signage and instruction for the faithful may be needed. Use of face coverings (masks) is strongly encouraged in all church activities and is mandatory where civil regulations require mask wear in public (currently all of New Mexico). Pastors of churches must monitor regional civil regulations to determine the current restrictions in the number of persons allowed to gather in church assemblies.
        • In Arizona, the allowable number of persons assembled is determined by the judgement of the local church leadership after situational assessment.
        • The churches on the Navajo Nation are currently allowed 25% capacity for gatherings. Future changes are linked directly to the disease prevalence which could increase or decrease.
        • Zuni Pueblo churches are capped at 50% capacity.
        • The allowable number for assembled persons in the churches of New Mexico is determined for each county separately. The current policy directs limits by the following categories which are dictated by the number of disease cases detected and testing results. The category designations may change when reassessed every two weeks: 
              • Red – 25% capacity 
              • Yellow – 33% capacity 
              • Green – 50% capacity 
              • Turquoise -75% for Turquoise categories.
        • In most churches, it is physically impossible to seat 50% or more of the occupancy and still maintain 6-feet distances. Therefore, our advice is to maintain as much space between families and individuals as possible in the seating arrangement but enforce the distance requirements wherever possible, such as coming forward for communion. The instruction for liturgical processions is relaxed to allow the clergy and assistants to process in the usual manner prescribed by the rubrics of the liturgy being celebrated. The faithful in assembly should not participate in processions. The gifts should not be processed to restrict the handling of the vessels.
        • Passing of objects between the people assembled remains restricted. Offerings should be collected in baskets stationed at suitable convenient locations or, less preferrable, with ushers using long-handled baskets.
        • Printed liturgical aids (song sheets, special prayers, guides for special services, etc.) should be for one-time use only. The hymnals and multiple use missalettes should not be used. All items for distribution, including bulletins, should be available for those assembled to pick up individually and not handed out by a person.
        • Attention to special cleaning between the use of the worship space remains a priority as per prior guidance.
        • Increased ventilation of outside air is encouraged as the weather warms.
        • Singing by the assembled faithful remains restricted to short responses or prayers. This is especially true if masks are not in use. Cantors or song leaders are allowed and may unmask for their parts but should be more than 6 feet separated from others.
        • The faithful may need to be reminded to exercise prudence in their interactions when assembling or departing so as not to create uncontrolled gatherings at the entrance of the church. Conversing is still possible with a safe distance which reflects concern for everyone’s well-being.

It is my fervent prayer that this Holy Week and the Season of Easter will be a time of blessing for all the faithful of the Diocese of Gallup. May it stimulate a resurgence of dedication to ministry and commitment to lives that are animated by our love of God and appreciation for the gift of salvation through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Sincerely in Christ,
+James Seán Wall
Bishop of Gallup 

NM health updates
AZ health updates
Navajo Nation Health Updates
National health updates

CDC: What to do if you’re sick (updated)
CDC: Guidance for Schools

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    Gallup, NM 87301
    PO Box 1338
  • (505)-863-4406
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