WHEELING, West Virginia — Becoming vaccinated and wearing a face mask are “genuine acts of love” that can protect friends, neighbors and “our own health” during the widening coronavirus pandemic, said Bishop Mark E. Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia.

Addressing Catholics across the state in an Aug. 27 video message, Brennan encouraged these steps as ways to enhance the health and safety of family members, friends and vulnerable people.

His message was released as the number of COVID-19 illnesses continued to rise, leading to more hospitalizations and deaths in the state.

Brennan also encouraged people to pray for those affected by the coronavirus and for an end to the pandemic, saying that everyone can choose to act boldly in the face of this “mortal threat.”

He stressed that vaccines are widely available and give substantial protection to those who are vaccinated. Wearing masks in public settings and large indoor gatherings, he said, adds further protection.

“Some object that vaccinations and wearing masks interfere with their personal freedom. Our freedom is a very limited but real participation in God’s freedom, and like God’s, is meant always to be used to do good,” he said.

“I urge you to choose to do good to your neighbor and to yourself by being vaccinated and wearing a protective mask in appropriate settings,” he said. “No one among us would choose to watch a family member or friend suffer and possibly die if we had the power to stop it.”

“We do have the power, to a great degree, to counteract a deadly virus by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask. As we continue to navigate through these difficult times, we pray for patience and a strong resolve to do what is best for everyone,” the bishop added.

The video was released two days after Bishop Brennan asked the faithful to wear masks in all diocesan churches. Parishes were asked to place a sign at church entrances asking that those attending Mass wear a mask. Children younger than the age of 2 were exempted.

Parishes also began posting the message on social media by the end of the day.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported Sept. 7 high transmission of the coronavirus in 54 of the state’s 55 counties.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, has repeatedly called on the state’s residents to be vaccinated to stem virus transmission.

Rowan is executive editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.