On May 13, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced a phased plan to reopen parishes for services and Masses. All Catholic dioceses in Illinois worked together on the plan in consultation with and with the approval of state and local public health officials and civil authorities. “These 50 days of Easter, leading to Pentecost, are marked by unprecedented suffering, as humanity has fallen victim to a perilous contagion. In addition to the threats to our physical wellbeing, we are suffering spiritually as the COVID-19 pandemic has required restrictions of our worship and active participation in the sacramental life of the church,” Cardinal Cupich wrote in a letter released with the plan. “Surely, there have been moments in history when governments and rulers have persecuted Christians and banned their public worship. This is not one of them. Rather, the present restrictions come in response to an extreme medical emergency as local, state and federal authorities — specifically public health officials — legitimately fulfill their responsibilities to safeguard human life and the common good.” He called on all the faithful to comply with the plan and “observe good citizenship.” “From the first pages of Scripture we learn that we indeed are ‘our brother’s keeper,’ a truth that must inspire us as we are called to sacrifice,” he wrote. “We should also be motivated to cooperate with public safety norms, given our reverence for life and human dignity. This is, at its heart, a moment to proclaim the breadth and depth of what it means to be pro-life, particularly as this virus preys on the most vulnerable in our midst.” Four principles undergird the multi-phase plan: 1. Everything possible should be done to provide people the solace of the church’s sacramental life in a timely and reasonable way. 2. The current situation in Illinois remains dangerous and fragile. While much has been achieved, there remains the potential that the gains could be lost by a second more virulent wave. 3. Trust needs to be established that the top priority in any plan is the safety and wellbeing of people. We cannot take for granted that people will return just because churches are reopened. 4. Calling people to exercise faithful citizenship will be key. Each Catholic will need to take personal responsibility for the common good as well as their own safety. The plan envisions a set of required measures and phases. There will be an ongoing review of the plan so that adjustments are made in accord with new data. The basics of the plan are as follows: 1. A robust communications effort to inform parishes and parishioners of the plan and any updates to it. 2. Each parish needs to recruit non-vulnerable volunteers to assist the pastor in implementing the plan. 3. The selected volunteers are to complete training by webinar. Training for phase 1 began the week of May 18. 4. A certification of readiness to reopen will be required of each parish at each phase. Parishes must complete an implementation template confirming completion of all action steps and demonstrating that there are a sufficient number of trained volunteers to execute it. 5. Phase 1 allows for parishes to reopen for baptism, reconciliation, weddings and funerals with a limit of 10 attendees. 6. Phase 1A allows for parishes to reopen for private prayer and adoration with a limit of 10 attendees. It is expected that parishes could reopen for phase 1 by May 23 and phase 1A by May 30. 7. Phase 2 allows for reopening for weekday and weekend Masses for larger groups depending on the guidelines from health officials and the capacity of the church building. 8. Through ongoing discussions with pastors, health care professionals and civil authorities, there will be a review of the plan at each stage with an eye to making adjustments in accord with new data. To open up in phase 2, the following will be required: 1. Expand the number of parish team members if civil authorities permit an increase in the crowd size for phase 2. 2. Maintain an ongoing procurement program for safety and cleaning supplies. 3. Continue recruitment and training of new, non-vulnerable volunteers as needed. 4. Develop logistical procedures in accord with the guidelines of the plan to manage more frequent and larger services that cover actions before, during and after the rites. 5. Implement a safe and secure attendance reservation/ticketing system to maintain order and facilitate possible contact tracing of infection. 6. Submit a detailed proposal for implementing phase 2. Auxiliary Bishop Ron Hicks, archdiocesan vicar general, sees much hope in the plan. “I’m delighted that the plan was in coordination with all the Illinois bishops so that we as Catholics can look at ways of opening safe and prudently,” he said. “It sends a message of unity and it also confirms for all of us that we’re in this together. As church we have to respond together too.” The training required for parishes to reopen shows a desire to keep people safe, he said. “We are all hungry to return to the sacraments and to the Eucharist and to the parish community and as we do so we want to do it in a way that’s incremental, that’s safe and also demonstrates that we are paying attention to the safety and the well-being of others so that people can be confident that they are going into a church where we are paying attention to the various guidelines and protocols for safety,” Bishop Hicks said. For updates on the plan, visit archchicago.org/coronavirus/reopening.