LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Candles remain unlit and church pews sit unaccompanied by parishioners every Sunday in Southern Nevada amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas Bishop George Leo Thomas suspended mass and other religious gatherings on March 16, and extended that order at the end of April through May 31.
The shift in weekly activity has pushed the vast majority of group worship online.
"It was one of the most difficult decisions I've made as a bishop. I've been a bishop for 20 years," Thomas said. "To bring the public celebration of Mass to a close is very painful, certainly for me, but certainly for our people."
The closure has also hurt church coffers at many locations in the valley.
Thomas said most churches have seen less contributions on Sundays as people watch services from home online, but at least one church has seen a boost from the community.
"Surprisingly enough, one pastor reported that he had the largest collection in his tenure just last week," he said. "He sent out a letter of appeal, and people are just so generous."
Whether struggling financially or spiritually, Thomas said he's trying to lift the 750,000 Catholic worshipers in the Diocese up.
Thomas created the Diocese Restoration Council, spearheaded by Bishop Gorman High School President John Kilduff and composed of representatives of the medical, gaming, education, civic, law enforcement, engineering, logistics, and pastoral ministry fields, to help him decides when and how the diocese would respond to the pandemic.
"My interest is to make decisions that are based on scientific evidence and good data," he said.
Thomas said a scientific data driven approach is the only way to ensure worshipers, many of whom are elderly or have pre-exsiting conditions, can worship together safely.
"I predict that the changes will be systematic, gradual, and data driven,"
Thomas said the March 31 date to allow mass to continue is a flexible date and could change at any point given the advice of the Diocese Restoration Council.
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