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Archdiocese of Baltimore launches webpage to memorialize individual coronavirus victims

In an effort to provide an alternative to funerals, most of which are prohibited during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has created a webpage on which members of the public may post memorials to friends or loved ones who have died of illnesses related to COVID-19.

The page, which is on the archdiocese’s website, invites people to upload a photo and other information about a deceased individual along with his or her name, whether posters are Catholic or not.

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The idea is to give anyone who lives in or near Maryland the chance to celebrate a deceased loved one amid the crisis in a way current guidelines on public gatherings do not.

The emergency order issued by Gov. Larry Hogan last month limiting the size of crowds to 10 until further notice forbids most funerals as Catholics generally practice them and bars all but the most intimate of sending-off ceremonies, whatever one’s faith tradition.

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That, Archbishop William E. Lori says, represents yet another way in which the guidelines recommended by health officials and mandated by local, state and federal governments, however necessary, leaves many yearning for spiritual connection as the coronavirus continues to spread.

“At a time when funeral Masses aren’t safe to celebrate and when people aren’t able to gather, even for something as important as the death of a loved one, I pray this will allow people to express their prayerful love and support in a way that is safe, but also very meaningful to those who are grieving the loss of a loved one at this time,” Lori said in a statement on the website.

Creating the webpage — and launching it this week — seemed like an effective way of marshaling the public’s apparently growing facility for digital communication toward a key spiritual end, said Sean Caine, a vice chancellor and spokesman for the for the archdiocese.

In the absence of funerals, it also gives members of the public a chance to consider a deceased person as an individual, not just as one more in a growing body of statistics.

“Especially when people aren’t able to participate in the same rites and rituals that they normally would, due to the prohibition on funeral Masses, we felt it was a way for all those people who would come to a funeral at least to be able to collectively pray for those individuals,” Caine said. “And even though people are obviously watching the numbers each day, so far nobody has really known the faces behind the numbers.”

The Catholic church has a long tradition of praying for the dead, through funeral Masses, graveside services, Mass intentions and other commemorations, Lori said. Catholic funeral Masses, which traditionally take place in churches before many guests, are currently prohibited in the archdiocese and graveside committal services are limited to immediate family.

“We are a people of faith, a people of prayer,” he added. “Though apart, we are united by our prayers for those who have gone before us, even those we don’t know. They are our brothers and sisters, part of our human family.”

The page, known as “One Church, One Family,” has started modestly, featuring three deceased individuals as of Thursday, all in their 70s or older. But Caine is hopeful the initiative will gain in popularity as quickly as others the archdiocese is offering, including the Mass it livestreams and televises, with Lori as celebrant, from the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen at 11 a.m. Sundays.

The first of those services, March 15, drew about 2,000 viewers, and the numbers have grown steadily. The Easter Mass attracted about 14,000 on digital devices and was seen live by about 100,000 more on WBAL-TV.

Archdiocese officials are working to get word of the webpage to officials in its parishes, hospitals and schools in hopes of alerting “all people in contact with someone who has lost someone” during the pandemic, Caine said.

“We’d love it if we didn’t have to add any names, but as long as this crisis continues, we hope more and more people will become aware of the page and find it beneficial,” he said. “We thought it would bring comfort to the families of those dying from this horrible disease and give people something to do that feels helpful. That’s a powerful, important thing.”

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