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Miami Archbishop: Holy Week With Coronavirus 'Is Truly Unprecedented'

Daniel Rivero
Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski

This year has been strange for religious celebrations: Passover Seders held on Zoom. Mosques that haven’t closed their doors for centuries forced to do so. And millions of Christians unable to get blessed palms to place in their homes on Palm Sunday.

For those Christians, for the first time in memory, Holy Week has been interrupted by the social distancing measures in place.

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WLRN recently spoke with Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski about how Catholics across South Florida are celebrating Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter and the other dates that make up Holy Week on the Christian calendar.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

WLRN: Governor DeSantis carved out an exception for religious gatherings in a statewide stay-at-home order. But you have been firm that there will be no in-person Mass, including for Easter vigil. How did you come to that decision to follow your own path on this?

WENSKI: I'm not following my own path. I'm following the path of the nation. And also, the recommendations of the president of the United States, too, who said ... the next two weeks will be very critical and that because of that, people would have to take extreme measures in isolating themselves, staying at home. And seeing that southeast Florida, Palm Beach, Dade, Broward are the epicenter here in Florida, that didn't seem to me that it would be prudent for us to have any type of gatherings that would invite large groups of people to come out of their homes.

The governor, I think basically tripped over himself and made an announcement that was kind of self-contradictory because at one point he's saying shelter in place or stay at home. And then he's opining about what religious groups should or should not be doing. That was unfortunate on his part.

Jesus was in the desert praying and tempted, tempted by the devil. ... And the biggest temptation that we would have is not to show our best face towards our loved ones or neighbors.

What are some of the ways that you've adapted this year's observances, given the threat of COVID-19?

This is truly unprecedented. I don't think in the history of Christianity we've had an occasion when the services of the church have been pretty much shut down around the world. However, we are living in a new technological age. And so we're taking advantage of that technology.

And though it's not as good, or it's no real substitute for being there and participating in a Mass — virtually through the Internet or through other media — it is a way that we can maintain our connection with the sources of our faith.

In fact, for decades we’ve been offering Masses for shut-ins that are celebrated on TV, for those people that are unable to come out of their houses because of age or because of sickness. In this particular time, all of us are watching the Masses from home.

In the Miami diocese, since there were no church services on Palm Sunday for people to go physically and receive the palm leaves, what was your advice for worshipers this past Palm Sunday?

I asked people through e-mails and through social media to think about decorating their home with a palm. And here in Florida, almost every backyard has a palm tree of some sort. So it was relatively easy for people to do that. And I've seen many, many photos that have been uploaded to Facebook or to other social media, people decorate either their front doors or their doorsteps or or their mailboxes with a Palm branch, some type or another.

Are there any parts of the story of Easter that resonate with you in a different kind of way this year?

Well, we remember Jesus from the desert. Jesus, when he began his ministry, retired to the desert for 40 days of prayer and fasting, 40 days. You know, that's what the word quarantine comes from. It comes from quarantenam, and means a 40-day period. Cuaresma, Lent in Spanish, means 40 days. And so hopefully our social isolation will not endure for 40 days, but certainly the prayer and fasting of Jesus in the desert resonates for us today.

This is truly for all of us, a desert experience where we're deprived of the usual routine out of our lives. Jesus was in the desert praying and tempted, tempted by the devil. And certainly while we are doing this desert experience, we're not gonna be immune to temptations. And the biggest temptation that we would have is not to show our best face towards our loved ones or neighbors.