In December, the Diocese grappled with the frightening spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, while preparing to play a role as a community partner in the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine in early 2021.
“We are going to be a major player in this,” says Ann Marie Gallant, Director of the Diocesan Emergency Operations Collaborative (EOC). “When [the counties] call us, we say ‘yes.’ ”
A handful of parishes in the Diocese have already served as sites for County administered COVID-19 testing and seasonal flu shots. As the COVID-19 spike has intensified the number of parishes stepping forward to serve as sites has increased, especially in areas like the High Desert and Eastern Coachella Valley, where COVID-19 rates are highest.
Father Francisco Valdovinos, ST, Pastor of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mecca took to the airwaves in December offering a radio message in Spanish encouraging residents to take health and safety precautions, get tested and receive the vaccine when it arrives. He was joined in delivering the message by Sister Maria Teresa Pacheco, who ministers to communities in the Eastern Coachella Valley.
“We ask you to please receive the vaccine when it arrives,” Fr. Valdovinos says in the radio spot. “This will be the best way for us to protect ourselves, our families and our community.”
Added Sr. Pacheco, “When we answer this call, we give glory to God who gives us our life and health.”
Both the Diocese and the Catholic Bishops of California are mounting public campaigns to encourage Catholics to receive the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna. With regard to the question of whether cell tissue from aborted fetuses was used in the creation of these vaccines, both are morally acceptable, according to statements from the Diocese and from the California Catholic Conference of Bishops.
“The vaccines developed by Pfizer and by Moderna do not utilize cell lines that originate from fetal tissue of an aborted baby for the design, development or production of the vaccine,” reads the Diocesan statement. “While both companies did use a tainted cell line in one of the confirmatory tests for their vaccine, this connection to abortion should be viewed by Catholics as “remote” and not cause to refuse the vaccine on moral grounds.”
Gallant said she estimated that parish sites may be offering the COVID-19 vaccine, in partnership with the San Bernardino and Riverside County departments of public health, by late January or early February.
Meanwhile, the parishes of the Diocese continue to contend with prohibition of indoor church services in both San Bernardino County and Riverside County, because they are in the most restrictive (purple) tier regarding public activities. California Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order issued on Dec. 6 did not affect outdoor Masses currently being offered by parishes in the Diocese. Winter weather has forced some parishes to suspend outdoor Masses and offer livestream Masses only.
December celebrations such as the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Simbang Gabi and Las Posadas were not marked by the typical large gatherings, due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Major Our Lady of Guadalupe procession in Riverside and Coachella were cancelled. But most the celebrations carried on with smaller gatherings and virtual supplements, including evening reflections, livestreamed liturgies and prayer services.
Bishop Gerald Barnes praised organizers of the Virtual Novena leading up to the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“It was so touching,” Bishop Barnes said of the virtual sharings. “It helped people enter into the celebration.”