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Largest Catholic Church In North America Closes Doors For The First Time In Nearly 100 Years

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Mary Margaret Olohan Social Issues Reporter
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The largest Catholic church in North America has closed its doors for the first time in nearly 100 years.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception announced Tuesday that the basilica will close it’s doors, a move that marks the first time since “the National Shrine’s founding that the Shrine has closed for a non-weather-related event.” The closing comes after the shrine announced Friday that it will “suspend the public celebrations of Mass” as well as confessions, beginning March 14 until further notice.

“This was a difficult decision because we know that the faithful rely on Mary’s Shrine for the peace and solace that is found in this sacred place,” said rector of the shrine Monsignor Walter R. Rossi. “Still, we also recognize that we must listen to scientific and medical experts and do our part to help prevent the spread of this virus.”

Rossi added that the decision to close the shrine was made out of concern rather than fear. (RELATED: ‘Seeking Solace’: Largest Catholic Church In North America Sees Increase In Attendance During Coronavirus Panic)

“We, at America’s Catholic Church, pray for all affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of the United States under her title of the Immaculate Conception, to intercede for us during these unprecedented times,” the basilica’s Friday statement said before it was announced that the shrine would close it’s doors.

Visitors sit on pews in the Great Upper Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of Catholic University in Washington, DC, on March 21, 2008. Pope Benedict XVI will hold a private prayer service and meeting with the 350 bishops of the United States at the Basilica as he makes his first official visit to the United States next month when he travels to New York and Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Visitors sit on pews in the Great Upper Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of Catholic University in Washington, DC, on March 21, 2008.  (Photo credit SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The closing came after Monsignor Walter Rossi, Rector of the Basilica, announced in a Thursday statement that the shrine will remain open to the public until otherwise instructed by the government.

“We are taking reasonable precautions to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19),” the rector said in the statement. Precautions include removing holy water from fonts, omitting the “Exchange of Peace,” suspending “public distribution of the Precious Blood during Holy Communion” and increasing cleansing of public areas.

Rossi noted that the basilica has seen “increased attendance at our daily Masses” — attendance that indicates there are “many who are seeking the solace that can only be found in the celebration of the Holy Mass.”

“In these challenging times, we must balance our responsibility to care for the faithful with the need to provide a place of prayer and pilgrimage for those who seek it,” Rossi said. “We will take prudent and rational steps to protect ourselves and our visitors, while also seeking God’s guidance and protection through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

He added: “We are committed to keeping the doors of America’s Catholic Church open. However, should circumstances change and government authorities require us to close to the public, we intend to continue with the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

The shrine is located on the campus of the Catholic University of America in Brookland, D.C.  Catholic University President John Garvey announced March 11 that the university will move all classes online until “at least Monday, March 30.”

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