Following a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court ordering capacity limits on places of worship cannot be more restrictive than other places, such as schools, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham lifted her stringent “color-coded” reopening plan for places of worship.
While many places of worship rejoiced in the decision following a year-long assault by the Governor on people of faith, others remained at Lujan Grisham’s status quo, including the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, which kept the “red to green” framework restricting masses, funerals, weddings, and other essential church services.
Archbishop John C. Wester said in a statement, “It is of paramount importance to remember that the Church values everyone’s safety and well-being.” He added, “Life is sacred and we are taking every precaution to protect our people from the coronavirus.”
This means that the Roman Catholic faithful in northern and central New Mexico will remain restricted on their church attendance, including Colfax County, which currently sits at the “red level,” meaning it “may not exceed 25% of the maximum capacity of any enclosed space on the premises.” The six counties in the diocese at the “yellow” level will only be allowed to have a maximum of 33% capacity, according to the levels Wester is following. The ten other counties in “turquoise” will still only be allowed a max of 75% as well.
However, another Roman Catholic diocese in New Mexico, the Diocese of Las Cruces, which covers most of the state south of Torrance County, is not cowering to fear and is letting each priest of each parish decide how to proceed.
In a statement from the diocese, it declares that “Bishop Peter Baldacchino has removed the restrictions on Mass attendance and will continue to leave it in the capable hands of the priests in the diocese to celebrate Masses, Funerals, and Weddings at the capacity which they deem prudent while continuing to be aware of their parish realities and the current health precautions set forth by the State and Federal Government.”
“[T]hose that are at risk for COVID-19 are encouraged to stay home and watch the numerous live stream Masses available in the diocese,” the diocese said.
The Diocese of Las Cruces was a trendsetter last April when Bishop Baldacchino resumed public masses, the first diocese to do so.
“We [as priests] have been called by Christ and ordained to serve the people of the Diocese of Las Cruces, to bring them hope and consolation during this difficult time,” Baldacchino wrote at the time.
“In the events of these days and weeks the Lord is calling us out of our comfort zone, he is calling us to seek new ways to reach the people. In addition to this mission with which we are entrusted, we also have the mission to keep people safe. The two must be equally pursued.”
“While it is true that we need to take every reasonable precaution to reduce the spread of Coronavirus, it is equally true that we offer the greatest ‘essential service’ to our people. The past few weeks have brought to light many unintended consequences of the ‘stay-at-home’ order,” he continued.
Bishop Baldaccio’s leadership is in stark contrast to Archbishop Wester’s, where the Diocese of Las Cruces is calling the faithful to live out their faith with their own choices, while the Archdiocese of Santa Fe is mandating Christians to follow strict guidelines that reduce their choices.