More than 1,000 faithful recently participated in a “Free the Mass” protest at United Nations Plaza in San Francisco. The demonstration was called by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who stated that the city’s COVID-19 restrictions are repressing Catholics’ right to worship. At the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, only one person is allowed to pray inside at a time.
“The city recently announced it will now allow 50 for outdoor worship, with a goal of permitting indoor services up to a maximum of 25 people by Oct. 1 — less than 1 percent of the capacity of San Francisco’s St. Mary’s Cathedral,” Archbishop Cordileone wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “All we are seeking is access to worship in our own churches, following reasonable safety protocols — the same freedoms now extended to customers of nail salons, massage services and gyms.”
Cordileone, who is a member of the Knights of Columbus, was joined by many of his brother Knights during the protest. Noel Panlilio, state secretary for the Knights in California, agreed with the archbishop and said the city’s policies seem discriminatory.
“The Knights were there to support the archbishop,” Panlilio said. “We could practice social distancing, wear face masks, protect ourselves and follow the guidelines [at Mass], but why aren’t we being the right to practice our own faith.”
He continued, “We’re not practicing our own faith, our own religion and that’s my main concern.”
The demonstration was peaceful, despite several hecklers, according to Panlilio. The crowds participated in a Eucharistic procession to St. Mary’s Cathedral, praying the rosary along the way and singing songs in honor of the Blessed Mother.
Panlilio had the honor of marching toward the front of the procession, carrying a relic of St. Tarcisius — a martyr of the early Catholic Church and patron of altar servers and first communicants. At a time when access to the sacraments is limited for many Catholics in the area, he said the opportunity was a blessing he won’t ever forget.
Upon arriving at St. Mary’s Cathedral, the protestors attended an outdoor Mass where Archbishop Cordileone delivered the homily. He said in part:
“No matter how rich or poor, no matter whether newly arrived or from families that have been here for many generations, it is our Catholic faith that unites us, and it is because of our Catholic faith that we are being put at the end of the line. …We ask: Why can people shop at Nordstrom’s at 25 percent capacity but only one of you at a time is allowed to pray inside of this great cathedral, your cathedral? Is this equality? …They are mocking you, and even worse, they are mocking God. …We are here together because we love God, and love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Panlilio said that he and his brother Knights participated in the demonstration to show their solidarity with their priests.
“We support everything that they do,” Panlilio said. “We need to practice our faith and free the Mass. It should be considered as essential.”
During the pandemic, Knights of Columbus from all over the world have been leaving no neighbor behind by collecting food, donating blood, fundraising for struggling parishes and more. Members have helped provide access to both physical and spiritual necessities, promoting several novenas since the lockdown began, livestreaming Masses around the U.S., and sponsoring Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi blessing.
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