Columbus Catholic Churches Deal With Swine Flu

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Catholic churches in Columbus are reviewing some of their worship rituals in an effort to stop the spread of swine flu. The bishop’s office has written to parishes urging them to take precautions. But it stopped short of making parishes suspend practices like shaking hands or drinking from a shared communion cup.

Parishioners at Saint Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown Columbus shook hands during the sign of the peace at noon mass. They also drank from the same challis during communion. While these practices are still in place at Saint Joseph’s a few other Catholic Churches around the city have suspended the rituals.

Beginning Sunday Saint Peter in Northwest Columbus will forgo the sign of the peace and the distribution of wine during mass for the month of November.

Deacon Joseph Schermer is making decisions for the parish while the church’s pastor is in Israel. Schermer said he’s prepared to get some flak from parishioners.

“I’m sure there are some who will consider we’re overreacting. And that’s probably true in a sense that it’s probably overreacting in just to be more cautious,” he said.

Schermer said there have been several cases of swine flu at the church and thinks the decision will lessen parishioners chances of getting sick.

Deacon Tom Berg in the chancery office said some have suggested suspending part of the liturgy while the swine flu is widespread, but so far the diocese is leaving it up to individual parishes to decide how to handle the issue.

“We continue to monitor the situation and rather than point to any specific benchmark we want to see how things are going from week to week,” Berg said.

Catholic Dioceses in New England and New York have gone further than Columbus. They’ve recommended churches suspend sharing cups and shaking hands.

Edward Achaab attended the noon mass at Saint Joseph’s downtown. He said the challis is optional.

“We’ve been advised that if you’re sick don’t take it,” Achaab said.

Paul Pennino said he doesn’t think there’s anything to be worried about.

“And we do have instituted at our mass that any of the extraordinary Eucharistic ministers do use the Purell hand sanitizers before they distribute the communion,” Pennino said. The Columbus diocese has directed priests and anyone who hands out communion should wash or sanitize their hands.

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