From the Pastor: Important Update
Several weeks ago I told you that Fr. Mangiafico and I were taking turns celebrating Masses. We were making sure that we were never in the same building at the same time and even staying away from people who had attended Mass or confession with the other priest, so that, should somebody either of us was in contact with be infected with the coronavirus, we would not be in a position of both having to quarantine for two or more weeks at the same time. That scenario, which we were attempting to avoid would, obviously, shut down everything, including Masses, confessions, and Adoration, at Epiphany. Whichever of us took the 7:30 am Mass one week would take both the 10:30 am and 1:00 pm the next week (because confessions after the 10:30 would overlap with the other priest being in the church getting ready for the 1:00 Mass). Last Sunday I had the 7:30. But just before 10:30 I got a frantic call. “Fr. Mangiafico is not here yet!” I got myself over to the church, hoping that he was just caught in heavy traffic and, though arriving too late for the 10:30 Mass, would be here very early for the 1:00. Some of the people tried reaching him as I prepared for Mass, but he didn’t answer his phone or emails. After Mass I expected to hear that he had arrived late, but he still wasn’t here and wasn’t answering his phone. There were no reported accidents along his route. I took the next Mass and confessions and when I finally finished I headed back to the rectory to get my phone (left behind in the rush) and called. Thanks be to God he answered! But he sounded like he just woke up and I could not understand a word he spoke. I called emergency and sent EMS to his house. He had suffered a series of strokes and is now in Largo Medical hospital. Please pray for him! The first three days the hospital allowed one vistor per day. The fourth day they, due to covid panic, eliminated all patient visitations. He is supposed to go to rehab and may be there by the time you read this. He has full use, it seems, of his arms and hands, legs and feet, but not his mouth. His speech consists only of mumbled sounds and he is not swallowing properly. He can write and asked for prayers through the intercession of St. John Chrysostom, the priest with such eloquence in speech that he was called “Golden-mouthed.”
The covid panic is such that Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco have all enacted “must-mask” decrees inside all public buildings. We are still exempt from those regulations (though you are most free to wear a mask if you wish) as long as we remain at an anti-social distance from non-family members. I cannot be your mother, telling you where to sit, stand, and kneel, carrying both a measuring tape and family ID reader with me to enforce those mandates. I ask you to self-police in this regard. Please do not remove the blue tape and sit in a closed off pew. Please remember that we must keep you out of the church and hall until we have sanitized everything with alcohol after the previous Mass. Please do not congregate together laughing and carrying on outside the church doors making the congregation of St. Joseph Vietnamese Mission run the gauntlet to exit the church. If you notice, almost every one of them wears masks and then they have to brush past you if you crowd around the exits. It takes 10-15 minutes after they leave for us to be finished sanitizing, so there is no reason for you to be near the doors while they are still in the building. Please notice the blue “6 feet lines” on the floor keeping you at the regulated distance while standing in line for Holy Communion. Following these mandates keeps us from being fined or closed down. Starting next week our Knights of Columbus will be assisting in reminding you of these things. Please be courteous to them. And remember, you still have the dispensation from your Sunday obligation if you have any qualms about being here for any reason.
Finally, and this is a direct result of the preceding two paragraphs, if you are sick, please take extra precautions! Coughing, sneezing, and nose blowing is pretty standard stuff in a normal year. But not this year. Things will only get worse if the panic remains constant throughout the summer. Even when taking precautions, colds and flu get passed around. You will second guess your own symptoms, plus everyone around you will assume the worst, believing that if you dare leave your house you are a heartless, selfish murderer. Even if the covid test (which you will take) comes back negative after 6-10 days of your self-quarantine, you may be retested and retested until it finally shows a false positive! Then what? Contact tracing and, perhaps, emptying or even closing of the church? I don’t yet know what I will do if I get the sniffles. Being the only priest at a parish, I have had to celebrate Masses with such a bad flu that I couldn’t stand for the whole of the last Mass. But with a covid possibility could I even show up for Mass? Until Fr. Mangiafico recovers, I have no backup. Would you attend Mass offered by a coughing priest under these circumstances? I hope we never have to answer these questions!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka