NEWARK, NJ — Churches under the Archdiocese of Newark will begin allowing private prayer this weekend, the Archbishop announced Friday, as the first step of a cautious reopening plan. 

The initial phase, which will be minored by parish staff to ensure social distancing, also allows Sacrament of Reconciliation to be celebrated if social distancing can be maintained and masks are worn. 

Cardinal Joseph Tobin said that while individuals and families are welcome to pray while adhering to social distancing and the Center for Disease Control guidelines, Mass and group gatherings are not permitted. Masks must be worn at all times. 

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"We know the desire to return to your parishes, participate in the liturgy, and receive the Eucharist is incredibly strong, but we ask that everyone approach this reopening with a patient, loving and charitable mindset," Tobin said in a statement. 

The Archdioceses' reopening plan is being guided by an Archdiocesan Task Force, which said it is closely following public health officials' recommendations to not rush into reopening churches before manageable safety protocols can be put in place. In the second phase, churches will celebrate public weekday Masses and funerals with specific restrictions, such as limiting the number of worshippers. 

The third phase entails opening the church for Sunday Mass with strict adherence to social distancing and limitations on capacity. 

In the meantime, those planning to use the churches for private prayer on Sunday are asked to bring their own sanitizer and wipes as a courtesy. However, pews, door handles and knobs, restrooms, and high traffic areas of the church will be wiped down and sanitized at regular intervals, along with the removal of trash and other items from the pews.

"Finally, we should recognize that this is a unique time, and we need to continue to work together to make progress. There will be challenges and frustration," Tobin said. "You may not be able to attend Mass at your parish the first few weeks it resumes. However, we believe these guidelines are a call to love our neighbors."

The Archdiocese is awaiting further guidance from the state and public health officials before it decides when to begin implementing the rest of the plan.