Swine flu precautions change the way some worship - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Swine flu precautions change the way some worship

By Ben Watson - bio | email | Follow us on Twitter

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC-TV) - In light of concerns about the spread of swine flu, Catholic churches across the country are encouraging their members to take extra precautions during mass.

On Sunday, members of St. Augustine Catholic Church in Memphis were told it was fine to avoid sipping from the communal cup during Communion.

"But what we were saying today was if you don't want to do that because you feel as though it's uncomfortable to you, then don't worry about it. You will still receive the body and blood of Christ by still receiving the bread," said Father John Geaney with the Catholic Diocese of Memphis.

He said the changes are part of the diocese's attempt to make members more aware of how taking certain simple precautions can slow the spread of the H1N1 flu virus.

Priests who handle the eucharist made sure their hands were especially germ-free this weekend.

"I mean, before we went out today, we all washed our hands carefully," said Geaney. "In fact, we sanitized on top of the hand washing so that our hands would be as free as they could be anyway of germs."

And the Catholic tradition of shaking hands or embracing while offering others a sign of peace is also being reconsidered for now. Priests suggest worshippers instead smile and nod when saying "peace be with you" to one another during mass.

Church leaders say they don't want to alter tradition, but feel they must respond to concerns about swine flu.

"Well, I think, basically, the church is a good place to get information like this out because a lot of people come to church," said Geaney.

Clergy are also encouraging anyone who's feeling under the weather to stay home.

"And pastors don't do this very often, but we said, 'If you're not feeling well, stay home. And if your children are not feeling well, stay home with them so that there's no need to be at church when you might infect everybody else,'" Geaney said.

He adds that the Collierville School that was temporarily closed after a student contracted a probably case of swine flu has been cleaned. The diocese is waiting for approval from the health department, and Geaney says they could re-open in the coming days.


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