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'We're going through the valley of tears,' Toronto cardinal says of pandemic

Catholic churches in Toronto are shutting their doors on the eve of Holy Week after the Ontario government deemed all places of worship non-essential during the COVID-19 pandemic and ordered them closed.

The Archdiocese of Toronto cancelled all public masses last week, but kept its doors open for parishioners to drop in and pray. It also continued its numerous outreach services, including offering food to the homeless and underprivileged.

That will change at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday.

Cardinal Thomas Collins said he understands the “very scrupulous health reasons” to close down.

“I never thought in my whole life I’d see the day where I’d say we can’t have the public celebration of the Eucharist for a time,” Collins told The Canadian Press.

“It’s a very difficult time with the virus. We’re going through the valley of tears.”

Collins said priests will continue to give mass to 225 empty parishes throughout the Toronto region, including the upcoming ones on Good Friday and Easter Sunday in mid-April, which are considered to be the most important events on the Catholic calendar.

Like millions across the country, Collins is working from home.

He rises early each morning, gets dressed and walks down the stairs, through the hall of the rectory to St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in downtown Toronto. There he gives a mass that is broadcast live on YouTube.

The mass this past Sunday garnered more than 200,000 views online, the church said.

The meetings held at head office in midtown Toronto will now be done by teleconference, Collins said.

“Now is the time to be more engaged, not less,” he said. “We will have to be more creative.”

He is worried about the effects of isolation on the population.

Churches are reaching out to parishioners through the phone and video services like Skype, he said, as well as through social media. The “younger parishioners” are now delivering groceries and medicine to the older ones who are stuck at home.

“We are reminded through this of the reality of death. Life and Death. This is serious,” he said.

“That should wake us up and make us realize we got to go deep in our hearts _ this world is not forever.”

Like many other businesses ordered close, the church needs to pay its staffers despite a sudden drop in revenue: the weekly in-person donations known as the offertory.

“We’re trying to figure that out,” Collins said.

With no public masses last weekend, the church saw a significant reduction in donations, Collins said, although some money comes in from direct deposit donations.

Collins said he wants to allay his parishioners worries.

“Believe me, the Catholic Church is not shutting down in any way, we’re ramping up, but we’re doing it in a way that is scrupulously respectful of the needs of public health,” he said.

“But we all need to reach out to each other all the more.”

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