By John Norton
The weekend my wife and I flew to California for a long-planned trip to see family and friends, President Barack Obama declared the swine flu outbreak a national emergency. The White House called it mostly a procedural move allowing hospitals to take emergency actions if necessary, not a warning of increased danger from the H1N1 influenza.
Despite the tone of urgency that seemed to characterize the television reporting I saw about it, our fellow travelers seemed to take it in stride — much more calmly than I would have expected after seeing the news reports. In all our hours in the plane and major airports, including Los Angeles International, I saw only one person with a face mask — and most of the time, it was resting below her mouth and nose.
Other than the occasional person coughing into the crook of their arm (and then looking around embarrassedly and apologetically), or an occasionally overheard dark joke about disease, there were no signs that people were altering their lives much in response to the new flu. It was the same way at a U2 concert we attended one night in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl with more than 100,000 people (and two dozen good friends from across California) — you never would have known there was a national flu emergency.
Even in parishes. In Los Angeles, we were surprised at Sunday Mass to see Communion also distributed in the cup; for health reasons, that’s been temporarily suspended in our home diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind. At the kiss of peace, people shook hands as usual (in my home parish, many have started simply nodding and smiling instead). The one sign of accommodation to flu preparedness was big clear plastic jugs of hand sanitizer at each entrance to the church.
Even though you’re no more likely to get sick in church than in a restaurant or any other public gathering, dioceses across the country have been taking proactive steps to help keep their parishioners from spreading swine flu.
The most common steps are suspending Communion from the cup, encouraging Communion in the hand as opposed to on the tongue, and discouraging shaking or holding hands. Some parishes reportedly are also removing holy water from the fonts.
The feedback I’m hearing (on our blog, osvdailytake.com, and from e-mails) indicates that most Catholics are OK with the moves, considering the intention motivating them. “I think that’s a reasonable decision, and don’t mind the temporary change,” reads one typical post on our blog.
Others feel patronized. One blog poster wrote: “I think adults can make choices for themselves: taking precautions for catching the flu, staying home when ill, watching over the children, and all. We don’t need bishops or pastors altering liturgical procedures.”
What is your take? Write me at the address below or at email@example.com.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
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