Parishioners carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary staged a protest outside the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on Sunday, urging Archbishop Nelson Pérez to resume public Masses across the Philadelphia area.

“The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has for 60 days deprived faithful Catholics of crucial nourishment for our souls,” the Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania, which hosted the protest, said in an emailed statement. “While other U.S. dioceses have begun this restoration, Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Pérez has de facto ceded his authority to do so to Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf.”

The archdiocese suspended public Masses on March 18 in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives in the city. The Pennsylvania antiabortion group claims this has deprived the faithful of spiritual sustenance.

Father Dennis Gill (raised arms) the rector and pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul and the Director of the Office for Divine Worship addresses parishioners during an outdoor Mass at Sister Cities Park, across from the cathedral, along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday. Catholics staged a demonstration calling on Archbishop Nelson Pérez to restore public Masses.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Father Dennis Gill (raised arms) the rector and pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul and the Director of the Office for Divine Worship addresses parishioners during an outdoor Mass at Sister Cities Park, across from the cathedral, along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday. Catholics staged a demonstration calling on Archbishop Nelson Pérez to restore public Masses.

“The Archdiocese of Philadelphia shares the strong desire of the faithful for a return to the public celebration of Mass as soon as possible," Kenneth Gavin, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said in an email. "However, all of us share a responsibility for the preservation of public health. We must do our part to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The decision to suspend the public celebration of Mass was not made lightly. ... While we are eager for the public celebration of Mass to resume once again, it will happen when deemed safe and with due respect for guidelines set forth by government health agencies.”

Churches within the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh — which has been hit significantly less than Philadelphia — will gradually reopen and return to public Masses by June 1, with weekend Masses resuming five days later, according to the diocesan’s leadership.

Services in Philadelphia have been livestreamed since in-person services stopped two months ago.