Fordham’s Response to Resuming Religious Gatherings



The Archdiocese of New York has laid out a five-phase plan towards reopening churches in the city, including those at Fordham.


As New York City continues to deal with high coronavirus infection rates, leaders are left with the difficult task of determining what’s truly essential and when it is safe to begin reopening businesses, schools, community centers and more.

On Thursday, May 21, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that religious gatherings and ceremonies of up to 10 people can resume in New York state as long as attendees wear masks and maintain social distance. Following this announcement, students of faith were left wondering when Fordham would begin conducting Mass in person again. 

Prior to closing due to the coronavirus, Fordham conducted Mass in person every Sunday. In an effort to continue services using digital media, Fordham has been livestreaming Mass and central worship from the University Church over the university’s website and through WFUV, Fordham’s radio station, on Sunday mornings and will continue to do so throughout the summer. Mass is also held three days a week through Zoom for members of the Fordham community. 

According to Erin Hoffman, associate director of campus ministry for spiritual and pastoral ministries at Lincoln Center and director of Ignatian initiatives, Fordham’s campus ministry plans for the fall will depend upon the university’s plan to open and the directives of the state. 

If we are back and in person we will offer liturgies in person (following any parameters for social distancing, etc.) and will seek to continue to support the spiritual flourishing of all members of the community through a variety of opportunities be they virtual or in person,” Hoffman said. 

Fordham is following New York state guidelines for socially distanced religious gatherings, and its decision to reopen the church will be determined by the Archdiocese of New York, which encompasses and operates Roman Catholic organizations in Staten Island, Manhattan, the Bronx and southern New York. Reopening churches will differ depending on region and parish, according to the Rev. Jose-Luis Salazar, S.J., executive director of campus ministry.

All religious services during the COVID-19 pandemic must be carried out with great care to protect the health and safety of all by following the guidelines set forth in Faith Forward — plus whatever additional protocols the University deems necessary.

— The Rev. Mark Zittle, O. Carm

The Archdiocese of New York has prepared documents that detail the roadmap for reopening churches, including the Church of St. Paul Apostle. The plan includes current and forthcoming safety measures, liturgical accommodations, and guidelines for public transportation. The initiative to return to public worship, known as “Faith Forward,” outlines sacramental guidelines for churches that plan to resume religious ceremonies and gatherings.

The Rev. Mark Zittle, O. Carm., director of campus ministry for university church ministries, commented on the expected difference in church operations. “All religious services during the COVID-19 pandemic must be carried out with great care to protect the health and safety of all by following the guidelines set forth in Faith Forward — plus whatever additional protocols the University deems necessary,” he said.

According to the archdiocese’s documents, the reopening will be a gradual process marked in five phases, starting with churches being open for private prayer and confessions and ending with Sunday Masses with supervised attendance. 

The general guidelines recommend that those who are at a higher risk for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) do not come to church for Mass, and instead that they participate in the livestreamed Masses. It is also recommended that attendees sanitize their hands at the entrances and sit 6 feet away from others. Seating is based on a first-come, first-served policy, and Mass will not be celebrated more than twice on a weekday and three times on Sundays. 

Jenna Goldblatt, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’23, is uncertain about the success of this program.

“Although I think the idea is good in theory it seems like a difficult program to implement. Because people have not been able to attend mass for so long I would expect a lot of people to want to attend and it seems hard to have the church only allow ten people in,” Goldblatt said. “It seems like a safer option to continue with online mass and programming until services can be attended in a more safe fashion.”

Isabella Sottile, FCLC ’23, believes that opening the churches is a step in the right direction as long as social distancing and sanitation guidelines are maintained.

“Many people of faith actually consider these services to be essential, and I believe it is important to keep public health in mind while still respecting the faith of those who have been unable to participate in their religious rituals for the past months,” Sottile said.

Hoffman expressed that keeping the Fordham community safe is the main goal of the university, but that incorporating spiritual wellbeing is also extremely important. 

“It is of utmost importance to us to care for the holistic wellbeing of our Fordham community, so care for spiritual life and care for physical health are important factors in any decisions we make about what opportunities we offer,” Hoffman said.