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Florida governor exempts worshiping from rules; many religious leaders say, 'Stay home'

Mary Ellen Klas, Miami Herald on

Published in Religious News

MIAMI -- The archbishop of the largest Catholic archdiocese in Florida has told parishioners there will be no services during Holy Week. Leaders in Orthodox Jewish communities across the state have pleaded with their communities to not allow relatives to travel to Florida for Passover. The pastor of a Hillsborough County mega-church who was arrested for holding services last weekend in violation of a local stay-home order has decided to stay home -- for now.

Despite that, Gov. Ron DeSantis made the executive decision to allow religious groups to gather. The decision has drawn criticism from some and created dilemmas for others who believe in the healing power of shared worship but worry that closeness won't also breed harm from the novel coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes, COVID-19.

"It is not prudent for parishes to plan any activity that would encourage people to leave their homes," wrote Archbishop Thomas Wenski, the archbishop of the Miami diocese, in a statement that was delivered to his priests Wednesday morning.

He ordered them not to conduct any drive-by confessions, no palm pickups in front of church for Palm Sunday, no confession or Holy Communion and no masses on Easter Sunday.

Unlike the archbishop, however, DeSantis refrained from discouraging congregations from gathering and instead simply said that if they gather they should do it in a way that allows the faithful to keep their distance.

"The goal is to reduce contacts with people outside the home," DeSantis said at an in-person press conference Thursday in the Capitol. "It's less important what you do as how you do it."

 

He said local governments can't shut down a church "but coming up in the Easter season, I think people are going to want to have access."

"There's no reason why you can't do a church service with people 6 feet apart," he said.

Floridians are otherwise forbidden by DeSantis' order to gather in groups of 10 or more for any other purpose and are instructed to practice social distancing at all times, even while engaging with essential functions like grocery shopping or visiting a pharmacy.

After weeks of resisting calls for a stay-home order in Florida, as partying spring breakers became a national symbol of what not to do, DeSantis announced Wednesday that all non-essential businesses and services would be suspended until the end of April.

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