MEXICO CITY — Temperatures taken and anti-bacterial gel applied, the faithful passed through a disinfecting arch set up in front of centuries-old wood-and-stone doors. Inside, they sat spaced out on pews while robed priests donned face masks. In another church, a glass partition separated people from the altar.
Mexico City’s Catholic churches, including its main cathedral, began celebrating Mass again Sunday after three months of pandemic lockdown with a “new normal” that seemed to have more rules than faithful in the pews.
“I felt a great need and that is why I came, to ask that all that is happening pass,” Hermelinda Olivares, 53, said in a church in southern Mexico City where barely a dozen people listened to a priest pray for COVID-19 patients, healthcare workers and the deceased.
Most said they were just happy their churches were open again and felt it was important to take physical communion.
Some protested that authorities had taken too long to allow churches to reopen. “They let the supermarkets stay open but kept us closed until today, so here we are,” said Mónica Robleda, sitting alone on a pew far from anyone else.
Federal authorities left the decision on whether places of worship could open to state governments and city councils. Mexico now has topped 385,000 confirmed new coronavirus cases and more than 43,000 deaths.
Masses have been held in some parts of Mexico outside the capital with similar sanity measures in July. In other parts, religious services remain virtual.
The clergy has been hard hit by the pandemic. According to a count by the Catholic Multimedia Center, 46 priests, six deacons and three nuns has died of COVID-19 as of July 15.
Some churches, such as the Evangelical ones in Mexico’s capital, decided to wait for the number of infections to go down further before opening, despite official authorization. Mexico’s Episcopal Conference said each priest should assess the situation in his parish before resuming services.
“The options we chose – both parishioners and priests – must be taken with special care to preserve health and life,” said Cardinal Carlos Aguiar, the archbishop of Mexico City.
While the capital’s iconic cathedral lacked its habitual tourists on Sunday, it offered modern pandemic options like being able to give alms through a QR code that can be read by cellphones although nobody appeared to use it.
About 500 faithful gathered Sunday at the Basilica of Guadalupe, only a small part of the 5,000 that can be hosted by the north Mexico City basilica that is the destination of one of the largest Catholic pilgrimages in the world.
One of five of Mexico’s confirmed coronavirus cases has been registered in the capital and Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum has threatened to return to a stricter lockdown if a worrying increase in infections continues.
“Everything is a risk but you have to live,” said Luis López, 68.
Sheinbaum has said that churches should remain closed in neighborhoods that are still on high alert for infections. Churches that do open must impose sanitary measures like face masks, that ceremonies not last longer than half an hour and that church occupancy not exceed 20%.
In a middle-class neighborhood in southern Mexico City, Salvador Sánchez stood at the door of the Parish of San Juan Evangelista making sure those measures were respected. Besides taking temperatures and applying gel, the 62-year-old counted how many parishioners entered.
“I am happy but concerned that not all people cooperate and that is why the infections continue,” Sánchez, who has lost two friends to the pandemic.