Media Release

Dear Members of the Diocesan Family,

You would be aware of the precautionary measures underway in light of changes to coronavirus or COVID-19.

Following the decision of the governments of Australia, all organised non-essential large gatherings of more than 100 indoors are to cease. In our circumstances this includes the celebration of Mass.

As Bishop of the Northern Territory diocese, I cannot fail to see the moral implications, namely that we are obligated to do everything in our power to minimise the person-to-person spread of this disease in our cities and towns and most importantly, our remote communities. This is our Christian duty.

The people in our remote communities are among the most vulnerable with many experiencing serious medical conditions of one type or another. It’s up to all of us to ensure our communities remain safe. This also applies of course to all vulnerable members of our larger community.

I believe strongly that as a Diocese we have a responsibility to all our parishioners and indeed to the community to play our part in ensuring that our communities are as safe as they can be.

To that end, and with a very heavy heart, I have this week asked our Priests to suspend all Sunday Masses celebrated in our churches, effective from and including Sunday March 29th 2020.

Therefore, this weekend March 21st and 22nd will be the last of the regular Sunday Masses, but once 100 worshippers have entered the Church, parishioners will be required to stay outside and participate in the mass from outside locations observing social distancing (1.5 metres apart, except in families).

As Bishop, while it is my desire to make the Eucharist available to all, I must be responsible, not just for our Catholics but for the wider community. I made this

 

decision after a meeting on Monday with a representative group of a dozen diocesan leaders, including two doctors. Additionally, I consulted widely with other medical professionals and with bishops elsewhere.

I have not taken this decision lightly. Some further arrangements:

  1. WeekdayMassesmay,forthetimebeing,continuetobecelebratedwithin our churches, again with appropriate precautions provided the numbers are very small.
    Where Churches are normally left open during the day, they will continue to remain open for visits to the Blessed Sacrament and private prayer. Of course, we are encouraged to keep the safe precautionary distance from each other.
  2. Contacting your Parish Priest for Spiritual guidance or Pastoral care by phone or arranging to meet the Priest in a suitable place in person are still available.
  3. Confessions can either be celebrated in the church outside the confessional or in the confessional through a grill covered with a protective cloth.
  4. Pastoral care of the sick will still be available.
  5. Funerals will still be possible as with the celebration of Baptisms and Weddings with appropriate precautions.
  6. The diocese will issue more specific instructions regarding the Holy Week and Easter liturgical celebrations.

In this Lenten season, maybe the greatest sacrifice of all, will be the deprivation of the Sunday Eucharist. You may be aware that early Christians and indeed many Christians still under persecution today, do not have the privilege of the Eucharist to keep their faith alive.

I encourage you to participate in other ways such as time in personal and family prayer, and by reflecting on the Scriptures.

Very importantly I want to convey to you two ways of relating with God to offset as far as possible the deprivation of our Sunday Mass and Communion. They are:

1. Each weekend, I will celebrate the Sunday Mass and this will be screened at 9am on Sunday mornings on Aboriginal TV (Channel 4), Larrakia Radio 94.5FM, Australian Indigenous Radio VAST913 (National Radio 2400ATSI Communities), on TV Radio Channel 401 and 403, Aboriginal Melbourne Radio 3KND, YouTube Stream available from Aboriginal TV and Catholic Websites.

 This is the YouTube link to the Aboriginal TV website:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBIEEoylx5aMOq_6cbFMZ7g/featured

We will also put it on the Diocesan website once the link is created

http://www.darwin.catholic.org.au/

I would like to thank Dr Donna Odegaard, founder and owner of Aboriginal Broadcasting Australia, for making this possible.

Individual Parishes under the leadership of their Priest may also find other creative ways within their parishes to arrange an on-line Sunday Mass or offer an on-line Spiritual reflection.

2. I encourage you to make what from early Church days has been called a Spiritual Communion/Communion by Desire. We make this prayer when we cannot physically receive Holy Communion. What we do is to prayerfully express our desire to receive Jesus into our heart and into our life. We can leave it to the Good Lord to pour out his grace and love into us in the same measure as happens in actual Holy Communion because we are doing what we can, in circumstances beyond our control.

The Catholic Education Office will communicate with their own communities based on the advice they receive from the NT Department of Education and the Department of Health.

I should mention that the arrangements above are temporary. As the situation develops or worsens, further restrictions may become necessary.

Obviously, I want to allow the diocese to return to its normal practice of worshipping as soon as possible, I repeat, as soon as possible!

We understand that these are difficult financial times for everyone. Obviously, the normal Sunday collections will not be possible for the time being. Parishes will still need to pay their bills and Priests will need to eat and live. I encourage you to find some way of still supporting the two Sunday collections in any way possible. Please contact your Parish as to possibilities of how this can be done.

I want to thank all of you for your fidelity and for your continued support in this difficult time. With your help and by God’s grace we will emerge from this testing time as a healthy and faith-filled Catholic community.

Bishop Charles Gauci

Bishop of Darwin

18.03.2020