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Pandemic Leads Holy Week Changes But Archdiocese Of Philadelphia Stresses 'Churches Are Open'

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Christians across the region are celebrating Holy Week, and the pandemic has led to some changes. Even with many pastors on edge about crowds this weekend and how to space out people, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia says their message is "churches are open."

The Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is set to host nearly a dozen services and masses over the next four days. Father Dennis Gill, the cathedral rector, says people need to come back.

"If you want me to drill down this message so that I could say it in just one sentence: Come to church to celebrate Easter," Father Gill said.

Parishes across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia have limped through lean times because of the pandemic's effect on mass attendance.

"We would have usually 1,300 people on a Sunday and we're hovering right around 400," Father Kevin Gallagher said.

Father Gallagher, pastor of Saint Denis in Havertown, and pastors just like him have continued to use live stream systems, technological lifelines to parishioners not ready to return.

"I think that's very important that we connect with our people at home, that was something that in our parish we were able to be in their homes last year a week before masses were suspended," Gallagher said.

At Saint Dot's in Drexel Hill, George Buechele built a four-camera system. The live stream is regularly used for weddings, funerals and other parish functions.

"A lot of people really like what we've done here. It's used a lot, we can see the views every week. And it's not only good for the church, it's good for the school. A lot of school events are live-streamed from the church so the parents love it," Buechele said.

Father Gill says as more people are vaccinated, parish live streams should be emphasized less and less.

"Because live-streaming never ever takes the place of the actual celebration of the sacred liturgy," Gill said.

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